Veendam, The Next Generation

Online editor Monica Poling blogs from Alaska on Holland America's Veendam

MS Veendam sails through Glacier Bay // (c) 2009 Monica Poling

MS Veendam in Glacier Bay //
(c) Monica Poling 2009

After years of ribbing from my travel industry friends, I finally took my first-ever cruise. It’s too bad that the perfect, sun-drenched Alaska weather and Holland America’s beautiful new Lanai Staterooms have made a mark so high, it will hard to enjoy any cruises after this.

In reality, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy cruising.

My main concern was the proverbial cabin fever. I’m drawn to light and big windows and having little more than Love Boat reruns as a baseline for my knowledge of cruising, I was worried I might feel closed in. However, the Veendam, which had recently come out of dry dock, was introducing its Lanai staterooms on this particular cruise. Each of these gorgeous rooms has a sliding glass door leading on to the Promenade Deck, with two dedicated deck chairs per room.

Instead of feeling closed in, I felt like I was in an ever-changing, panoramic photography display. Thanks to Alaska’s long summer days, there were rarely times when I couldn’t roll over in bed and watch the views pass by.

I didn’t spend much time in bed, however. The reserved deck chairs pretty much meant that I passed a lot of time outdoors on the Promenade Deck, communing with fellow passengers while watching the incredible scenery.

The weather too, did everything it could to ensure that I came home a big fan of Alaska cruising. The sun was pretty much out all the time and the day time temperature generally hovered at around 80 degrees every day. It was so uncommonly warm that some of the local Alaskans worried about heat stroke.

The movie-perfect weather also made for some gorgeous shore excursions, and even better, a fairy tale day sailing through Glacier Bay. Just about every passenger on the at-capacity ship climbed onto one of the forward decks, enjoying a cup of traditional pea soup, while absorbing the simply stunning vistas. Watching glaciers calve while getting an educational narrative from the national parks ranger that joined us for the day, was so profound, that in reality there probably aren’t words strong enough to express how powerful it was

Even if I had hated every single shipboard experience, the experience in Glacier Bay National Park would still put the cruise in the two thumbs up category.

Fortunately, I did not hate the onboard experiences. Although admittedly, much of my onboard time was spent eating. Sometimes as much as six times a day.

I had heard a mixed range of opinions of cruise food, ranging from “be prepared to gain a lot of weight” (which I did) to “the food will be awful” (which it was not.) The main dining options included the buffet-style Lido Restaurant and the sit-down Rotterdam restaurant, both which generally followed the same meal course. Mostly, we enjoyed the “As You Wish” dining, which allowed us to enjoy a flexible dining schedule. A few nights, however, we elected to make a reservation to facilitate our seating.

Other lunch options included the Terrace Grill with the yummiest hamburgers and Slice, an outdoor pizza restaurant. For dinner, we could also indulge in the ship’s fine dining restaurant, Pinnacle Grill. There is a small surcharge, but my 20-ounce Rib Eye was well worth the price of admission. The Veendam had also rolled out a new restaurant, Canaletto, which takes over part of the Lido Restaurant and serves up Italian favorites. There is no extra fee for this restaurant, but reservations are encouraged.

Although I didn’t spend too much time in the bars on board, the Veendam has an excellent selection of places for drinking. Mix is their newest concept, a high-gloss environment with three themed bars, Champagne, Martini and Spirits and Ale. Truth be told, I tended to favor Explorations, a New York Times-sponsored coffee house. The area was home to the ship’s library, internet access and some darn yummy ice mochas. This also seemed to be the place on the ship where the proverbial “everybody passes by if you wait long enough” happens. While taking our various coffee breaks, we ran into most of the ship’s senior crew at one time or another, as well as most of the entertainers.

Now that I’ve returned home from this amazing first-cruise experience, I find I’m having a hard time getting back my land legs. I stare out the picture window at home and still expect to see the mountainous views of the inside passage sail by. Alas, it’s just the hills of Hollywood and sadly, there isn’t a glacier in sight.