Passenger enjoy the uncommonly warm Alaska weather aboard the Veendam
When I tell people that the favorite part of my early summer cruise on Holland America Line’s (HAL) Veendam was lounging on the deck chair, enjoying sunny afternoons that frequently hit 90-plus degrees, most are shocked to learn that I was actually on an Alaska cruise.
What really surprised my travel industry friends, however, is the notion of reserved deck chairs on the Veendam’s Lower Promenade deck. These deck chairs are directly accessible from a new stateroom class that features sliding-glass doors opening directly onto the deck. This new accommodation class, called the Lanai Stateroom, is just one of the latest upgrades in HAL’s Signature of Excellence campaign.
With sunny days and Alaska’s nearly 20 hours of summer daylight, the Lanai Stateroom was a big hit with my mom and me. We spent much of our waking hours sitting in our deck chairs, watching Alaska’s scenery unfold, and occasionally chatting with passengers doing their daily laps.
It should be mentioned that since the Lower Promenade deck serves as the fire drill muster deck, regulations prohibit any kind of “barriers” on the deck, meaning the deck chairs are actually situated in a public area. While the chairs do have small reserved signs, many guests don’t even realize there are staterooms behind the one-way glass doors, and freely use the reserved chairs.
The open feel of this format, however, is an advantage from inside the stateroom, where the outside view has a much less constricted feel than it would from a closed-in balcony. To my mother and me, it felt like a continually rolling film loop of breathtaking Alaskan footage. Knowing that the window’s one-way, mirrored glass ensured our privacy from passersby, we consistently slept with the curtains open so we could always be sure to catch the late-night sunset.
The Veendam now features 38 of these new Lanai Staterooms. The ship’s recent refurbishment also included the addition of 32 new Verandah Staterooms, eight new Inside Staterooms and 15 new Spa Staterooms, bringing the ship’s capacity up to 1,350 passengers.
When we could tear ourselves away from our room, we spent our time investigating the ship’s other upgrades, the most noticeable being The Retreat, the newly styled pool area. Designed to resemble a private-resort experience, the pool features built-in, tiled lounge chairs and a towering video screen. Even with Alaska’s uncommonly warm weather, most passengers weren’t taking advantage of the in-water relaxation, but the feature should be a hit on Caribbean itineraries.
As another part of the Signature of Excellence upgrades, HAL has created a new meeting area, called Mix, made up of three specialty cocktail lounges, Champagne, Martinis and Spirits and Ales. The area’s neon-punctuated, hip vibe was popular with cruise passengers but, despite its New York-glam decor, it felt intimate and never overcrowded. In fact, the lounge’s most frequent patrons were usually teens and children enjoying the in-table video games.
We spent much of our time at the new Explorations Cafe, a popular feature on HAL ships, with a New York Times-sponsored cafe and library, where we enjoyed our daily cappuccinos while browsing the library’s reading material, half-heartedly playing with the in-progress jigsaw puzzles or just enjoying the view.
Many of the upgrades found on Veendam are also scheduled to take place on HAL’s other Statendam-class ships. The cruise line has committed a total of $525 million to its Signature of Excellence upgrades. The Rotterdam, currently in dry dock, will be completed in December, while Maasdam, Statendam and Ryndam will receive upgrades in two phases, running through 2013.