World: All Aboard!

By Cherie DeLory

Activities Ahoy on Holland America’s msVolendam while cruising the waters off the coast of New Zealand and Australia.

The food, yes, it’s very good. There’s lots of it, and on the elegant, spacious lido deck you’ll be greeted by cheerful dining staff, some who sing, and some who even remember your name. What’s not to like? If you’re a wink like me, you’ll auto pilot to the dessert section before checking out the main course options. Merely the thought of the triple crème brulee or Grand Marnier chocolate Volcano cake has me contemplating my next cruise.

Cruises are addictive. There are several ship designs, cruise themes and ports of call to consider, and if you’ve been on one ship, you certainly haven’t been on them all.

One thing is for certain, you’ll never be bored. Avid cruise goers know that there is more to a cruise than gazing out at the deep blue sea, while travelling at speeds of 23 knots. It’s your time to pamper, relax, eat well, exercise, sightsee, be educated, be entertained, and meet new people. You’ll look forward to your sea days because it gives you an opportunity to enjoy the wondrous scenery, sink into a good book, or participate in the enticing array of on-board activities. Put it this way, anything you can do on the ground, you can pretty much do on a ship, within reason. Prepare to be overwhelmed!

Just because you’re in the middle of the ocean there’s no excuse not to be physically active. If working out in the gym or dipping into the pool is not your style, why not breathe in the fresh, sea air and walk some laps around the ship’s deck. On the ms Volendam, 3.5 laps is one mile. Challenge yourself to do eleven laps by participating in the On Deck for the Cure to raise money for cancer research. There’s also ping pong, badminton, volleyball, golf and basketball to keep you limber. Fitness junkies need not worry. There’s a workout room with all the amenities, including regular aerobics, spinning, yoga and pilates classes. Need a personal trainer to help you get motivated? No problem.

If exercising your brain muscles is in order, try the daily Mega Trivia Challenge, hosted by the cruise director. It’s a great way to meet new people, as you organize into teams of 4 to 5 persons.

Art enthusiasts can take a self-guided art tour, iPod in hand, to learn more about the art and antique collections displayed on the ship, valued at tens of millions of dollars. You can also sit in on a one-hour lecture presented by the art gallery, on several artists from Dali to Picasso.

In partnership with Food & Wine magazine, top chefs, wine experts and leading cookbook authors offer culinary workshops and cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Centre. Private cooking classes with the ship’s chef can also be arranged. There were discussions on the art of bread folding, chocolate, coffee, and desserts, to name a few. Wine tastings, craft classes, floral arranging, and creating towel creatures are also inspiring activities. Every night when you return to your room you’ll be greeted by a friendly towel creature in the shape of an animal, be it an elephant or a monkey. It’s kind of like origami with towels. Want to become tech savvy? The “techspert” offers classes and personal workshops on everything from how to arrange a digital scrapbook to blogging.

Scenic and wildlife commentary by the on board Travel Guide and naturalist is available at points of interest such as the Mercury Islands and Milford Sound. He also delivered a captivating live didgeridoo performance, along with a presentation on the history of the Australian instrument.

The majority of the ship’s staff is Indonesian. An Indonesian tea is served on select afternoons in the Rotterdam dining room. This is a wonderful opportunity to sample the delicious, authentic Indonesian desserts and teas, including Indonesian rice pudding, sweet sticky rice dumplings and Indonesian mud cake.

If you wish to indulge in a more intimate and elegant dining experience, the Pinnacle Grill is a favorable alternative. It’s recognized by Porthole Magazine as Best Alternative Restaurant in the Cruise Industry.

If you want to be entertained, just sit back and enjoy. There are two live shows nightly, one at 7:00 p.m. and one at 9:00 p.m. From stand-up comedy to magic to the Volendam singers and dancers to a crooner and impressionist and instrumentalists, there is plenty of talent on stage to dazzle and entertain. Later in the evening, make your way to the Explorer’s Lounge to listen to the Champagne Strings Orchestra while sipping a cognac. And if you’re a true night owl, make your way up to the Crow’s Nest for dancing into the wee hours. If you need some practice, dance instructors are available during the day to teach you a few new steps. For even more of the luxuries of home, head to the movie theatre, popcorn in hand.

I may have saved the best until last. The Greenhouse Spa & Salon is not to be missed. And, if by chance you do experience some sea sickness, acupuncture is a treatment that is guaranteed to work. The ms Volendam is the only Holland America Line ship that offers a new Meridian Energy Screening machine. It provides a computerized report and diagnosis of your body’s energy meridians.

Whatever your mood, you will soon discover your favourite hang-out spot, whether it’s rolling dice over blackjack in the casino, lounging in the piano bar with a martini or taking in one of the many entertaining live shows. The immediate challenge is fitting everything in.