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Cruise Ship Review

ms Volendam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Anyone familiar with the Statendam-class of Holland America ships, which includes Statendam, Veendam, Ryndam and Maasdam, will quickly find their way around Volendam. Essentially a stretched-out version of the S-class, the ship has three design changes that distinguish her and her sister Zaandam: The aft swimming pool was moved from the Navigation Deck up one level to Lido Deck, the specialty restaurant (Pinnacle Grill) was incorporated, and a much-needed mid-ship elevator bank has been added.

When she was launched in 1999, Volendam had the highest passenger capacity in Holland America's fleet. She's nearly 61,000 tons, with a length of 778 feet, and, in a move that seems quaint now, proved her modernity by being the first ship in the fleet to boast a dedicated Internet center (The Website) with eight satellite-connected computer stations.

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. There had been some concern about visa renewals for the Indonesian staff, but those issues seem to have straightened themselves out. Service personnel are primarily Indonesian and Filipino; most officers are European, and most of them are from Holland.

One noticeable distinction of Volendam is the manner in which the staff welcomes and accommodates passengers with physical challenges. Considerate and genuinely caring, crew members assist guests in wheelchairs and those with difficulty walking when required, and there is never a sense of impatience or rushing. There are about 30 wheelchairs on board for guest use.

Dining

Editor's Note: Holland America has long been one of the more traditional cruise lines when it comes to main-restaurant dining. On every ship but Prinsendam, HAL has offered four seatings: 5:45 p.m. (first upper); 6:15 p.m. (first lower); 8 p.m. (main upper); and 8:30 p.m. (main lower). But that's changing as the line begins to incorporate As You Wish dining onto its ships. Via As You Wish, passengers can opt for pre-set seating and dining time -- or take advantage of a new, flexible option at dinner (breakfast and lunch are already open seating).

The program, tested on Noordam, enables passengers to request either option during the booking phase. One level of the ships' two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.

As You Wish will be phased in gradually. In fall/winter 2007, look for its introduction on Noordam, Ryndam and Volendam. Statendam, Oosterdam, Rotterdam, and Zaandam will introduce it in winter 2008. And Westerdam, Zuiderdam, Veendam, Maasdam, Amsterdam, and Prinsendam will incorporate As You Wish in spring and early summer. HAL's new Eurodam will debut in July with As You Wish in place.

Dining options on Volendam are varied and plentiful, from early morning continental breakfast to the themed midnight-snack buffet. Apart from the regular restaurant service, hungry guests will also find a hamburger/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. 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 and surrounded with windows, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and has, at present, two assigned-seating dinner times with plenty of small tables for those who prefer to dine a deux. Even as the concept of open-seating dining is proliferating throughout the industry, there are still many HAL cruise guests who enjoy the traditional same-table, same-time, same-partners dinner.

While I generally prefer the ease of casual dining, I am a patsy for the accoutrements that can only come with the latter: Parade of the Baked Alaska, or of flaming cherries, or Italian Night, or of anything that makes the wait staff drop all pretension and strut their stuff to the tune of "Hot Hot Hot," or wear silly vests and line up to sing "O Sole Mio." (Volendam crew parade their Alaskas to Wagner or Strauss, but they use sparklers, making them quite festive. Alas, there is no Italian Night.) I look forward to it, as do many who enjoy traditional cruising, and Holland America excels at tradition. In a nod to the demand for more choice, the line will soon be introducing four assigned-seating dinner times throughout its fleet.

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.

The Lido Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant, is open for all meals. Most guests choose to have a casual breakfast and lunch in the Lido, and for dinner, the dining area is transformed into a semi-restaurant, with table linens and waiters. During busy breakfast and lunch times, fruit, salads, cheeses, breads and other cold items are self-serve while most of the hot items are portioned out from behind the counter. There is a pasta station, a wok station, soup and salad bar, pizza bar, ice cream and dessert bar. Dining-room fare is served in the regular buffet line. The restaurant itself is open and cheery, spanning a large indoor area as well as outside, along both the inner swimming pool and the aft pool. The Lido will be upgraded in the near future, with more casual-dining options and cooked-to-order entrees.

Pinnacle Grill, Volendam's sole specialty restaurant, serves aged beef, lobster tails, fish and lamb in an elegant, understated environment. Reservations are required and there is a $20 per person charge to dine, but all courses are included, the selections are terrific, the presentation artful, and the service impeccable. My favorite of all was the creamed spinach. "The secret is a drop of Pernod added at the last minute," the Pinnacle Grill manager whispered to me.

The room service menu is not extensive but does offer a fair variety. It's pretty nice being awakened each morning with a tray of juice, coffee and croissants while at sea, and there are actually hot breakfast items available through room service. The all-important "will-the-eggs-be-hot?" test passed with flying colors; the kitchen accomplishes the near-impossible task by using a heated under plate. Some of the other items don't fare quite so well. Anyone expecting a pastrami sandwich when ordering a pastrami sandwich will be disappointed, since what arrives is two slices of bread (one of which is spread with mustard and mayo), a whole bunch of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, and a single thin slice of meat. Not even a pickle! (The mention of mayonnaise on the menu should have been a clear indication that something was amiss.) If you stick to the salads, you'll be quite happy, and you can order coffee or tea (decaf or regular) with cookies before bed.

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

Food quality is generally excellent, with the very occasional misstep. Some of the soups were bland and watery, and some of the specialties (Thai curry and bami goreng at the wok/pasta station in the Lido at lunch) were virtually tasteless. For the most part, however, both preparation and presentation are exceptional. The Portuguese bean soup served at lunch was not only delicious, but had a real kick to it. The roast rack of lamb could not have been more elegantly presented. The two perennial shipboard favorites, lobster tail and prime rib, were prepared perfectly; the lobster was the largest I have ever seen in a ship's dining room and was very obviously fresh. The individual Baked Alaska in the Pinnacle Grill and the nearly perfect Key Lime pie were wonderful, and Holland America's signature bread pudding with vanilla sauce, served daily at the lunch buffet, is always great. The "homemade" ice cream is also very good, and very popular. Other desserts served in the Lido at lunch are mass-produced and it shows; they are almost uniformly mediocre.

Tucked between the Wajang Theater and the Pinnacle Grill, the Java Cafe remains one of the most popular spots on this ship. Serving a variety of coffees (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and freshly baked cookies, there is no charge for this little luxury ... yet. It's one of the small indulgences that Holland America's guests appreciate the most, but when the ship goes through an upgrade in early 2006, it will be merged into a larger Internet Cafe/Library/Card and Game Room center. There will be pastries, flavored coffees, more specialties, and it will no longer be gratis. Loyal Holland America Line customers who have been apprised of this change are already mourning the demise of the Java Cafe as they know it.

Public Rooms

Bright colors prevail throughout most of the ship; her theme is "flowers," which indeed can be found in abundance on her 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 of her public areas.

Oddly, though, it took nearly my entire 10-day cruise to appreciate her design elements --the stunning and intricate art-glass lamps in the Ocean Bar and around the atrium on deck five, the Art Nouveau-style swirls in the ceilings and on the glass doors to the Frans Hals lounge -- her mish-mash of styles, eras and colors was confusing at first. The crystal atrium sculpture by artist Luciano Vistasi resembles something waiting to be launched into outer space, Rococo artwork melds with what looks like early 1970s architectural detail, and bright red-orange carpeting stops abruptly at the elevator banks, replaced by hues of placid blue.

Traffic flow, however, is good, and despite the profusion of styles, the overall effect is really lovely. Volendam is an easy ship through which to maneuver; both her size and layout make her comfortable within minutes of boarding. While the cruise I was on was completely sold out, not once did I have a feeling of crowding or experience any long lines, anywhere.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this ship is the sundry hidden "nooks and crannies" located around her public decks. Perfect for intimate conversation, or just to hide out and read, these spaces include sofas and settees, armchairs facing sweeping vistas, and corner banquettes away from the crowd. Look for the unheralded and discreetly placed massage chairs on deck five's port side; have a $1 bill ready if you want to vibrate.

The central, circular three-story atrium -- anchored by the crystal sculpture -- is surrounded by shops, offices, and guest service counters. On the Lower Promenade deck a lonely piano sits off to one side, abandoned, the ghost of whoever played it long disappeared. The Future Cruise consultant's desk is located here as well. One floor up, the Promenade deck holds the Front Desk, the Shore Excursion counter, and desk for the Guest Relations manager. The Upper Promenade deck has a wide assortment of shops surrounding the atrium, as well as cozy seating and little tables placed around the perimeter railing.

Smoking is extremely limited on Volendam, with small sections for smokers allocated in most of the bars and lounges but not in the restaurants or the Frans Hals showroom. Only in the casino, Sports Bar and at the Dolphin Bar for "Cigars Under the Stars" was there any noticeable tobacco smoke odor.

Holland America Line has drawn on its stores of incredible artwork to enhance the interior public spaces. Everything from pre-Columbian fetishes and sculptures to Renaissance-era fountains imported from Italy are included in the hallway galleries along deck five.

There is a large (and usually busy) card room and a very pleasant library (staffed only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- if you want a book outside of those times, you are out of luck); the nicely laid-out Internet center sits between these two rooms. Although the satellite service can be maddeningly slow at times, the Internet program on board Volendam is more reasonably priced than on many other ships, with packages starting at 75 cents per minute and descending to as low as 40 cents per minute if you buy a block of time. Wireless service is available for those with laptops and wireless cards (the cards can be rented from the Internet center as well), with "hot spots" located throughout the ship. Cabin service is not available, but I had great fun meeting up with other laptop-toting cruise warriors in the bars and lounges where the hot spots are located.

The Crow's Nest, located forward at the top of the ship, is by night a bar and hopping music and dance venue, 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 as she makes her way through the waters of the Caribbean or Alaska.

Cabins

The Statendam-class use of large deluxe suites and veranda suites proved so popular that the Volendam added more. Moving the aft pool to the Lido Deck freed up space on Navigator Deck for additional veranda suites. Hint: The competitive pricing and elegance of these accommodations ensure that they are the first to sell out on almost any voyage.

Deluxe suites offer 563 square feet -- including what could reasonably be called a "terrace," large enough for a couple of loungers and a dining table for four. A marble entry foyer, curved seating area, separate dressing room and full bath with whirlpool tub provide a luxurious ambiance in which to enjoy the cruise experience. More utilitarian are the 284 square foot veranda suites, with a smaller but comfortable veranda, separate seating area and small whirlpool tub in the bath. All suites include a combination TV/VCR, refrigerator, complimentary hors d'oeuvres, down duvets, 250-count cotton sheets, bathrobes, and personalized stationery. This ship also includes a single penthouse "apartment," at 1141 square feet, with a dining area for eight, a pantry complete with microwave, an enormous veranda, and a powder room. A "concierge club," The Neptune Lounge, is available for guests in deluxe and penthouse suites.

The 384 standard outside cabins still boast the 197 square feet of the S-Class ships, but these don't feel quite as spacious. The addition of a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard and a slight expansion of the bathroom pushes the desk and sitting area further into the room (and leaves less floor space while increasing functionality). The storage space is sufficient for two or more people for several weeks of travel, with a combination of closets, shelves, drawers, cabinets and desk space. I was traveling alone but, typically, over-packed for my 10-day cruise, and still managed to use only one quarter of the available closets and drawers.

In most outsides, the television is wall mounted, freeing the desktop. For some reason it has been placed nearly to the ceiling, which requires a very uncomfortable chin-up, head-tipped-back viewing position from the sofa located a scant few feet away. Watching television from bed is the only way to avoid neck pain.

Holland America distinguishes itself in the premium cruise category by providing one of the nicest standard bathrooms afloat, with plenty of space and a small but deep bathtub in even the lowest category outside cabins. A new line of yummy soaps, lotion and conditioning shampoo (called "Royal Dutch") is presented in large bottles and bars. There is a new salon-style hairdryer, a magnifying make-up mirror and a multi-spray showerhead, which can be used as a hand-held or overhead. The tub enclosure has several well-placed grab bars.

Caveat One: The water pressure is fine, but during a three-minute shower, the temperature varied between scalding and frigid. Be careful; the scalding range can really burn.

Caveat Two: The tub/shower combinations are very difficult to get into (and out of) for those who have hip, knee or joint problems, but the ship has a total of 23 cabins designed for physically challenged passengers, 13 of which are outside, with walk-in showers.

Inside cabins are slightly smaller, averaging 182 square feet, and have showers only. Smaller too are the 113 outside staterooms on the Lower Promenade Deck, a favorite of many repeat guests because of the easy access to the wide teak promenade that circles the ship. (Some of these outsides have fully obstructed views.) Guests on this level can step out onto what is arguably the largest "veranda" on the Volendam (albeit not private), complete with teak loungers evoking an era of true ocean liners. The wide overhang makes the cabins very dark, and although the windows are covered with a one-way film, prying eyes can still see inside when the lights are on. Unless one is an incurable exhibitionist, keeping the curtains closed whenever the inside is illuminated is requisite.

The uses of pale burled-birch Formica, pale peach-colored walls and the peach and gold colors of the soft goods make the rooms seem light and airy. While clean, the spreads, curtains and upholstery are showing signs of wear, but the brand new Euro-style mattresses make up for it. As part of Holland America Line's Signature of Excellence initiative, the ice buckets have been upgraded from the uber-tacky brown plastic to sleek and trendy polished steel, a new steel wire-mesh fruit basket has been added, triple-sheeting adorns the beds with high-quality linens. Fluffy Egyptian cotton towels have replaced the well worn but serviceable older ones, and, once the purview of suites only, all rooms now have bathrobes.

Hint 1: If you want a longer sofa rather than a small settee, book a stateroom designated as a "triple." You give up the largely unnecessary cabinet at the end of the settee in double rooms -- but the trade off is worth it.

Hint 2: Some of the Lower Promenade cabins that are listed as "fully obstructed" really aren't; they are "partially" blocked by the outside bulkheads around the promenade, and from a few, you still have a limited ocean view. They are priced comparably to an inside and can be a fantastic bargain, especially the ones at the aft of the ship.

Entertainment

The entertainment on Volendam is surprisingly diverse, with two shows nightly in the two-tiered Frans Hals lounge, a dance music combo that doubles as the deck band on warm Caribbean evenings, a harpist, a classical quartet, a resident pianist and a variety of individual performers. Lavish Broadway-style productions are offered in Frans Hals, pre-dinner piano and post-dinner dancing in The Crow's Nest, Baroque and Classical after dinner music in the Explorer Lounge (complete with brandy, coffee and divine chocolates) and 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 Wajang Theatre where the scent of freshly made popcorn filters into the surrounding areas.

New to Volendam in spring 2009 (May 27) is the Microsoft Digital Workshops program, comprised of 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 webpages 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.

A perennial Holland America Line favorite is the crew show, with folkloric presentations from the native countries of these hard-working individuals. On every cruise there is a series of games at various times of the day: Team Trivia, Name That Tune, Liars Club and others administered by the Cruise Director and staff, and of course there are both bingo and art auctions. The smallish casino gets quite lively at table games and at the wide assortment of slot machines; price-to-play ranges from a nickel to $5.

Fitness and Recreation

Volendam guests on a strict exercise regimen will be hard-put to offer excuses if they allow their program to lapse while on board. Located forward on Lido deck is the large and well-equipped Ocean Spa, with a wide range of gym equipment (treadmills, stationary bikes, free-weights, stair-steppers and 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 included in the gym, also, featuring daily classes; Pilates and Yoga instruction is available for a fee.

The spa itself, operated by Steiner of London, offers an array of pampering treatments and salon services at prices comparable to other spas both at sea and on land. Mud wraps, facials, and deep-tissue and aromatherapy massages are among the most popular treatments, while manicures, pedicures and hair care is available in the salon. There are men's and women's sauna and steam rooms available to Volendam guests at no charge. The spa will be getting a facelift that will include a Thalassotherapy pool, an expanded pedicure section, and a softer, more tranquil look to the massage treatment rooms.

I couldn't see how having both swimming pools on the same deck would work, but this is perhaps the best element of the redesign from the S-class ships. The central pool, which is surrounded by a glass enclosure and which also 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 food stations, the large Dolphin Bar at one end and a huge "dancing dolphins" sculpture at the other. PVC chaises, webbed rather than slatted, ring the pool in this element-protected location. The aft pool, on the other hand, is open and sunny, with padded loungers, framed only by the view from the stern and the sea breeze.

The Promenade deck is ideal for those who like to walk for their exercise (each circuit equals one-quarter of a mile), and joggers can use the Sports Deck track. There is a netted tennis/volleyball court on the Sports Deck, shuffleboard courts, and of course the two Lido Deck pools, which early in the morning saw power-swimmers racking up their laps.

Family

Because of her bright colors and cheery aspect, and because of the large standard staterooms (some connecting) and abundance of suites, Volendam is ideally suited for a family vacation. There were several families aboard during my cruise, and while there may not be rock-climbing walls or ice-skating rinks on this ship, there were plenty of activities for the young folk to enjoy.

Club HAL, Holland America's "kid's camp," operates daily, with age-appropriate activities and a space to call its own -- the Sky Room -- located aft on the Sports Deck. Arts and crafts, computer classes, games, sing-alongs and sea lore are all part of the program, which is complimentary for all families. Evening babysitting can be arranged for an additional fee if available (it's best to inquire as soon as possible to reserve your preferred times).

Teens enjoy the movies, pools, video arcade and the unlimited pizza, hot dogs and ice cream available during most of the day; special activities are set aside for those in the teen group when there are enough of them on board.

Fellow Passengers

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

Dress Code

Daytime dress on the Volendam is always resort-casual. On her Caribbean itineraries during the fall and winter, the Lido breakfast and lunch buffet lines are often filled with people in bathing suit cover-ups or shorts, but such informal wear is never allowed in the main dining room.

Evening dress ranges from casual to informal to formal. This is a traditional cruise ship; there are typically two formal nights on seven-day cruises, three on 10-day cruises. Formal equals dressy-dressy-dressy for women (gowns or cocktail dresses), and for men a tuxedo or suit with tie. Informal nights mean pant suits or dresses for women, jacket for men, tie optional. Casual dress in the evening is country-club casual, women in coordinates or slacks and sweaters, men can wear pullover shirts and khakis.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Dining

Passengers opting for traditional dining will be scheduled at one of four seatings: 5:45 p.m. (first upper); 6:15 p.m. (first lower); 8 p.m. (main upper); and 8:30 p.m. (main lower). "As You Wish" is HAL's flexible dining program. One level of the ships' two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.

Dining options on Volendam are varied and plentiful, from early morning continental breakfast to the themed midnight-snack buffet. Apart from the regular restaurant service, hungry guests will also find a hamburger/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. 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 and surrounded with windows, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and has, at present, two assigned-seating dinner times with plenty of small tables for those who prefer to dine a deux. Even as the concept of open-seating dining is proliferating throughout the industry, there are still many HAL cruise guests who enjoy the traditional same-table, same-time, same-partners dinner.

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 or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

While I generally prefer the ease of casual dining, I am a patsy for the accoutrements that can only come with the latter: Parade of the Baked Alaska, or of flaming cherries, or Italian Night, or of anything that makes the wait staff drop all pretension and strut their stuff to the tune of "Hot Hot Hot," or wear silly vests and line up to sing "O Sole Mio." (Volendam crew parade their Alaskas to Wagner or Strauss, but they use sparklers, making them quite festive. Alas, there is no Italian Night.) I look forward to it, as do many who enjoy traditional cruising, and Holland America excels at tradition. In a nod to the demand for more choice, the line will soon be introducing four assigned-seating dinner times throughout its fleet.

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.

The Lido Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant, is open for all meals. Most guests choose to have a casual breakfast and lunch in the Lido, and for dinner, the dining area is transformed into a semi-restaurant, with table linens and waiters. During busy breakfast and lunch times, fruit, salads, cheeses, breads and other cold items are self-serve while most of the hot items are portioned out from behind the counter. There is a pasta station, a wok station, soup and salad bar, pizza bar, ice cream and dessert bar. Dining-room fare is served in the regular buffet line. The restaurant itself is open and cheery, spanning a large indoor area as well as outside, along both the inner swimming pool and the aft pool. The Lido will be upgraded in the near future, with more casual-dining options and cooked-to-order entrees.

Pinnacle Grill, Volendam's sole specialty restaurant, serves aged beef, lobster tails, fish and lamb in an elegant, understated environment. Reservations are required and there is a $20 per person charge to dine, but all courses are included, the selections are terrific, the presentation artful, and the service impeccable. My favorite of all was the creamed spinach. "The secret is a drop of Pernod added at the last minute," the Pinnacle Grill manager whispered to me.

The room service menu is not extensive but does offer a fair variety. It's pretty nice being awakened each morning with a tray of juice, coffee and croissants while at sea, and there are actually hot breakfast items available through room service. The all-important "will-the-eggs-be-hot?" test passed with flying colors; the kitchen accomplishes the near-impossible task by using a heated under plate. Some of the other items don't fare quite so well. Anyone expecting a pastrami sandwich when ordering a pastrami sandwich will be disappointed, since what arrives is two slices of bread (one of which is spread with mustard and mayo), a whole bunch of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, and a single thin slice of meat. Not even a pickle! (The mention of mayonnaise on the menu should have been a clear indication that something was amiss.) If you stick to the salads, you'll be quite happy, and you can order coffee or tea (decaf or regular) with cookies before bed.

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

Food quality is generally excellent, with the very occasional misstep. Some of the soups were bland and watery, and some of the specialties (Thai curry and bami goreng at the wok/pasta station in the Lido at lunch) were virtually tasteless. For the most part, however, both preparation and presentation are exceptional. The Portuguese bean soup served at lunch was not only delicious, but had a real kick to it. The roast rack of lamb could not have been more elegantly presented. The two perennial shipboard favorites, lobster tail and prime rib, were prepared perfectly; the lobster was the largest I have ever seen in a ship's dining room and was very obviously fresh. The individual Baked Alaska in the Pinnacle Grill and the nearly perfect Key Lime pie were wonderful, and Holland America's signature bread pudding with vanilla sauce, served daily at the lunch buffet, is always great. The "homemade" ice cream is also very good, and very popular. Other desserts served in the Lido at lunch are mass-produced and it shows; they are almost uniformly mediocre.

Tucked between the Wajang Theater and the Pinnacle Grill, the Java Cafe remains one of the most popular spots on this ship. Serving a variety of coffees (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and freshly baked cookies, there is no charge for this little luxury ... yet. It's one of the small indulgences that Holland America's guests appreciate the most, but when the ship goes through an upgrade in early 2006, it will be merged into a larger Internet Cafe/Library/Card and Game Room center. There will be pastries, flavored coffees, more specialties, and it will no longer be gratis. Loyal Holland America Line customers who have been apprised of this change are already mourning the demise of the Java Cafe as they know it.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 are the exotic locations they visit -- not the ship that takes them there.

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 cruise guests 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.

Note: As part of a "code orange" policy that was implemented in 2010 in an effort to curb the spread of germs and Norovirus, Holland America's buffet is 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 crew members 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-holders 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.

Public Rooms

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 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 bar and hopping music and dance venue, 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.

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.

Cabins

Deluxe and Veranda suites appear in large numbers on Volendam. The competitive pricing and elegance of these accommodations ensure that they are the first to sell out on almost any voyage.

Deluxe suites offer 563 square feet -- including what could reasonably be called a "terrace," large enough for a couple of loungers and a dining table for four. A marble entry foyer, curved seating area, separate dressing room and full bath with whirlpool tub provide a luxurious ambience. More utilitarian are the 284-square-foot Veranda suites, with smaller but comfortable balconies, separate seating areas and small whirlpool tubs in the bathrooms. All suites include refrigerators, complimentary hors d'oeuvres, down duvets, 250-count cotton sheets, bathrobes and personalized stationery. This ship also includes a single penthouse "apartment," at 1,141 square feet, with a dining area for eight, a pantry complete with microwave, an enormous verandah and a powder room. A "concierge club," The Neptune Lounge, is available for guests in Deluxe and Penthouse suites. There, they gain access to concierge services, refreshments, Wi-Fi, a big-screen TV and a small library.

The 384 standard outside cabins boast 197 square feet of space with large floor-to-ceiling cupboards, desks and sitting areas with a sofa, a small glass-topped table and a chair. The storage space is sufficient for two or more people for several weeks of travel, with a combination of closets, shelves, drawers, cabinets and desk space.

All cabins offer flat-screen televisions that feature the usual network channels, as well as shipboard announcements, seminars and movies. DVD players are also standard in every cabin, and the ship boasts an extensive library of DVDs. Just take a look at the list found in your stateroom, and call the front desk to have your selections delivered. Also offered is a reasonably priced movie snack package that includes popcorn, candy and sodas. Note: On our sailing, we called twice to request movies; both times we were told our choices were "unavailable."

Holland America distinguishes itself in the premium cruise category by providing one of the nicest standard bathrooms afloat, with plenty of space and a small but deep bathtub in even the lowest category outside cabins. Elemis shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided in dispensers in the shower. Elemis body lotion is also offered. Despite the presence of salon-style hair dryers in all staterooms, giant old-school wall-unit ones are still mounted on the bathroom walls. (They look a bit like the Ghostbusters' proton packs.) You'll also find a magnifying makeup mirror and a multi-spray showerhead, which can be used as a hand-held or overhead. Additionally, the tub enclosure has several well-placed grab bars.

Caveat One: The water pressure is fine, but during a three-minute shower, the temperature varied between scalding and frigid. Be careful; the scalding range can really burn.

Caveat Two: The tub/shower combinations are very difficult to get into and out of. (We stubbed our knees and toes several times when trying to get in and slipped while trying to get out.) For those who have hip, knee or joint problems the ship has a total of 22 cabins designed for physically challenged passengers, 13 of which are outsides with walk-in showers.

Caveat Three: Our cabin toilet refused to flush several times during the first day or two of our sailing. It took three phone calls to the front desk to finally fix it. After the problem was addressed, the maintenance staff was (almost excessively) diligent with checking in to be sure it was still working properly. Throughout the voyage, we heard a handful of other passengers complaining about the same issue.

Caveat Four: Prepare to receive an obscene number of notices in your cabin on a daily basis. You'll get everything from the standard daily schedule to ads for just about everything under the sun. Come to our excursions talk! Buy a photo DVD! Get a discount on spa treatments/jewelry/art/logowear/future cruises! Holland America is good about recycling and provides a separate slot for paper in its cabin garbage cans; the abundance of notices will help you get used to using them.

Inside cabins are slightly smaller, averaging 182 square feet, and have showers only. Smaller, too, are the 113 outside staterooms on the Lower Promenade Deck, a favorite of many repeat cruisers because of the easy access to the wide teak promenade, complete with teak loungers evoking an era of true ocean liners, that circles the ship. (Some of these outsides have fully obstructed views.) The wide overhang makes the cabins very dark, and although the windows are covered with a one-way film, prying eyes can still see inside when the lights are on. Unless one is an incurable exhibitionist, keeping the curtains closed whenever the inside is illuminated is requisite.

The use of pale burled-birch Formica, pale peach-colored walls, and orange and gold soft goods makes the rooms seem light and airy. As part of Holland America Line's Signature of Excellence initiative, the ice buckets have been upgraded from the uber-tacky brown plastic to sleek and trendy polished steel, a new steel wire-mesh fruit basket has been added, and high-quality linens adorn the beds. Fluffy Egyptian cotton towels have replaced the well worn but serviceable older ones, and, once the purview of suites only, all rooms now have bathrobes, which can be purchased (and personalized) for $49 each.

There's plenty of storage space, with three closets, featuring a mix of bars with hangers to hang formalwear, and shelves, where you'll find an in-cabin safe. Drawer storage is also plentiful, with space in the desk/vanity area and in the nightstands on either side of the beds, which are twins that can be converted into a queen upon request. A small glass-topped table and an upholstered chair cluttered up the lounge space in the cabin; they took up badly needed extra space, which was always at a premium.

Hint 1: If you want a longer sofa, rather than the standard love seat, book a stateroom designated as a "triple," which has a pullout couch. You give up the largely unnecessary cabinet at the end of the sofa in double rooms -- but the tradeoff is worth it.

Hint 2: Some of the Lower Promenade cabins that are listed as "fully obstructed" really aren't; they are "partially" blocked by the outside bulkheads around the promenade, and from a few, you still have a limited ocean view. They are priced comparably to an inside and can be a fantastic bargain, especially the ones at the aft of the ship.

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.

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 here.

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 excursions 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).

Fitness and Recreation

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.

Family

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 babysitting 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. TV's 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.

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.

Dress Code

Daytime dress on Volendam is always resort casual, particularly in Alaska, where standard port-day clothes include jeans, hiking boots and sweatshirts. Evening dress ranges from casual to informal to formal. This is a traditional cruise ship; there are typically two formal nights on seven-night cruises, three on 10-night cruises. Formal equals dressy-dressy-dressy for women (gowns or cocktail dresses) and, for men, tuxedos or suits with ties. Informal nights mean pantsuits or dresses for women and jackets for men (ties optional). Casual dress in the evening is country-club casual, with women in slacks or skirts and nice tops and men in collared or button-down shirts and khakis.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts ($12 per person, per day, for passengers in suites). This is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.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.

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.

Note: 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.

Public Rooms

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.

Cabins

Deluxe and Veranda suites appear in large numbers on Volendam. The competitive pricing and elegance of these accommodations ensure that they are the first to sell out on almost any voyage.

Deluxe suites offer 563 square feet -- including what could reasonably be called a "terrace," large enough for a couple of loungers and a dining table for four. A marble entry foyer, curved seating area, separate dressing room and full bath with whirlpool tub provide a luxurious ambience. More utilitarian are the 284-square-foot Veranda suites, with smaller but comfortable balconies, separate seating areas and small whirlpool tubs in the bathrooms. All suites include refrigerators, complimentary hors d'oeuvres, down duvets, 250-count cotton sheets, bathrobes and personalized stationery. This ship also includes a single penthouse "apartment," at 1,141 square feet, with a dining area for eight, a pantry complete with microwave, an enormous verandah and a powder room. A "concierge club," The Neptune Lounge, is available for passengers in Deluxe and Penthouse suites. There, they gain access to concierge services, refreshments, Wi-Fi, a big-screen TV and a small library.

The 384 standard outside cabins boast 197 square feet of space with large floor-to-ceiling cupboards, desks and sitting areas with a sofa, a small glass-topped table and a chair. The storage space is sufficient for two or more people for several weeks of travel, with a combination of closets, shelves, drawers, cabinets and desk space.

All cabins offer flat-screen televisions that feature the usual network channels, as well as shipboard announcements, seminars and movies. DVD players are also standard in every cabin, and the ship boasts an extensive library of DVDs. Just take a look at the list found in your stateroom, and call the front desk to have your selections delivered. Also offered is a reasonably priced movie snack package that includes popcorn, candy and sodas. Note: On our sailing, we called twice to request movies; both times we were told our choices were "unavailable."

Holland America distinguishes itself in the premium cruise category by providing one of the nicest standard bathrooms afloat, with plenty of space and a small but deep bathtub in even the lowest category outside cabins. Elemis shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided in dispensers in the shower. Elemis body lotion is also offered. Despite the presence of salon-style hair dryers in all staterooms, giant old-school wall-unit ones are still mounted on the bathroom walls. (They look a bit like the Ghostbusters' proton packs.) You'll also find a magnifying makeup mirror and a multispray showerhead, which can be used as a handheld or overhead. Additionally, the tub enclosure has several well-placed grab bars.

The water pressure is fine, but during a three-minute shower, the temperature varied between scalding and frigid. Be careful; the scalding range can really burn.

The tub/shower combinations are very difficult to navigate. (We stubbed our knees and toes several times when trying to get in and slipped while trying to get out.) For those who have hip, knee or joint problems the ship has a total of 22 cabins designed for physically challenged passengers, 13 of which are outsides with walk-in showers.

Our cabin toilet refused to flush several times during the first day or two of our sailing. It took three phone calls to the front desk to finally fix it. After the problem was addressed, the maintenance staff was (almost excessively) diligent with checking in to be sure it was still working properly. Throughout the voyage, we heard a handful of other passengers complaining about the same issue.

Inside cabins are slightly smaller, averaging 182 square feet, and have showers only. Smaller, too, are the 113 outside staterooms on the Lower Promenade Deck, a favorite of many repeat cruisers because of the easy access to the wide teak promenade, complete with teak loungers evoking an era of true ocean liners, that circles the ship. (Some of these outsides have fully obstructed views.) The wide overhang makes the cabins very dark, and although the windows are covered with a one-way film, prying eyes can still see inside when the lights are on. Unless one is an incurable exhibitionist, keeping the curtains closed whenever the inside is illuminated is requisite.

The use of pale burled-birch Formica, pale peach-colored walls, and orange and gold soft goods makes the rooms seem light and airy. As part of Holland America Line's Signature of Excellence initiative, the ice buckets have been upgraded from the uber-tacky brown plastic to sleek and trendy polished steel, a new steel wire-mesh fruit basket has been added, and high-quality linens adorn the beds. Fluffy Egyptian cotton towels have replaced the well worn but serviceable older ones, and, once the purview of suites only, all rooms now have bathrobes, which can be purchased (and personalized) for $49 each.

Regardless of the cabin type you book, prepare to receive an obscene number of notices in your cabin on a daily basis. You'll get everything from the standard daily schedule to ads for just about everything under the sun. Come to our excursions talk! Buy a photo DVD! Get a discount on spa treatments/jewelry/art/logowear/future cruises! Holland America is good about recycling and provides a separate slot for paper in its cabin garbage cans; the abundance of notices will help you get used to using them.

There's also plenty of storage space, with three closets, featuring a mix of bars with hangers to hang formalwear, and shelves, where you'll find an in-cabin safe. Drawer storage is also plentiful, with space in the desk/vanity area and in the nightstands on either side of the beds, which are twins that can be converted into a queen upon request. A small glass-topped table and an upholstered chair cluttered up the lounge space in the cabin; they took up badly needed extra space, which was always at a premium.

Hint 1: If you want a longer sofa, rather than the standard love seat, book a stateroom designated as a "triple," which has a pullout couch. You give up the largely unnecessary cabinet at the end of the sofa in double rooms -- but the tradeoff is worth it.

Hint 2: Some of the Lower Promenade cabins that are listed as "fully obstructed" really aren't; they are "partially" blocked by the outside bulkheads around the promenade, and from a few, you still have a limited ocean view. They are priced comparably to an inside and can be a fantastic bargain, especially the ones at the aft of the ship.

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).

Fitness and Recreation

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.

Family

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.

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