There seemed to be a recurring theme among many of the guests aboard the SS Volendam this past February. They had a desire to visit New Zealand and they wanted to cruise aboard a Holland America Line (HAL) ship. This feeling was echoed by several travel agents aboard who were escorting groups.
Marilyn Stephen-Smith, representing Vantage Deluxe World Travel out of Boston said that none of the group she was escorting had ever visited New Zealand, but that 80-85 percent of them are repeat Holland America customers. “Because people have been with Holland America previously, when they saw this New Zealand/Australia cruise tour, they booked very quickly,” Ms. Stephen-Smith added.
According to a representative of the cruise line, almost 48.5 percent on this specific cruise were repeat customers. The percentage was even higher for those with the travel agent groups. While the percentage of repeat customers fluctuates with first-time cruisers on the Caribbean and Mexico itineraries, with the longer voyages of 10 days plus, the average of repeat customers goes up as high as 80 percent. According to the cruise line, 80 percent of HAL’s business is booked by travel professionals.
“Holland America is our number one preferred cruise line,” according to Lisa Anciaux, manager, cruise and group products for AAA Washington Travel Services, out of Seattle. “It was both the cruise line and the destination,” she concluded.
Gayle Baker of Valley Travel in Conway, New Hampshire, who was hosting a group booked by travel agents around the country through the Vacation.com consortium, said that contributing to her group’s selection of the trip, were the ports the Volendam was visiting and the service level of the cruise line.
All three suggest that when booking New Zealand/Australia, because of the long distance between the U.S. mainland and the South Pacific area, that travel agents recommend extended cruises or add-ons at embarkation or disembarkation ports.
onboard life The Volendam, which went into service in November 1999, is the size of ship many veteran cruisers find appealing. Its 1,400-passenger capacity is small enough not to be overwhelming—such as the multitudes found on the new mega-ships now coming into the market—yet, large enough to have all the amenities necessary for a 14-day trip. There’s a stunning dining room, specialty grill, theater and culinary art center, show lounges, a number of specialty bars, meeting rooms, a very intimate casino, library, full-service spa, Internet room and a coffee bar. The comfort level of the Volendam is truly outstanding and it is very easy to navigate.
There are 716 staterooms available on the Volendam, but unlike the new slightly larger Holland America fleet, which came into service at the end of 2002, the Volendam does not offer as many verandah suites. Approximately 27 percent of the Volendam’s total cabins are available with verandahs, as opposed to the new Vista- and Signature-class ships of Holland America where the verandah availability is approximately 67 percent of its cabins. If your client wants a verandah, the recommendation is to book as early as possible.
Passengers will love the ship’s “as you wish dining,” allowing them to dine on a schedule most suitable to their daily activities. There are two fixed seating dinners at 5:45 p.m. and at 8 p.m. However, there’s open seating dining available from 5:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. every evening. This is in addition to the casual dining in the Lido Restaurant, and the Volendam, like all Holland America line ships, has a Pinnacle Grill, an exclusive reservation-only dining venue featuring specialty dishes and intimate dining for a small additional charge.
The food in the main dining room is varied and offers a multitude of selections of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. Diners can find escargot, pate de foie gras, duck and sausage gumbo, broiled lobster tails or just a chef’s salad bowl, not to mention prime rib and crusted pepper sirloin steak—infinite possibilities to quench one’s appetite.
Most cruise lines take pride in their food service and the Volendam’s quality and presentation ranks high. But what was outstanding and should certainly be noted as five-star, was the service. In fact, the service validates the reason for the high percentage of repeat HAL cruisers.
explorations off the ship The ship embarked from New Zealand’s capital city of Auckland on its 14-day cruise around both the North and South Islands and then as an added bonus, visited Tasmania and Melbourne, Australia, before disembarking in Sydney.