Okay - so we went out for 7 nights, on the MS Niew Amsterdam on March 18, 2012. My wife and I are in our late 50's, and this is our 11th cruise overall. We have been on cruises as short as 3 nights, but mostly go for 7-nighters. Also, we have been on RC, Norwegian, Carnival and Holland America, so I would like to think our observations are accurate and that we have a good basis for comparison.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this cruise high marks .... maybe an 8.5. If I had to describe the cruise in one word - I'd say "dignified." The ship is painted Navy Blue and white and gives the impression of being a "floating tuxedo." Well, maybe not quite that formal ....... but still, this is an older and much more restrained crowd than the other ships. We picked this ship partly because the price was right, but also because I wanted to get away from all the current mass-media "Lady Gaga / Hip-hop/ Techno-pop/ Rap music culture and hype. We wanted to get away to relax, enjoy, sight-see, read a little and of course to eat well! We are not gamblers, nor are we really night-life people. NOTE : this is an OLDER CROWD by and large, and the pace of the cruise reflects that reality. We still felt some connection to the attitudes and traditions of cruises from the past. ( Our first cruise was in fact, 1987 on the Niew Amsterdam (III) that preceded this ship ! ) No there were no gowns, no mink stoles, and no costume party .... but there was a certain dignity that was present in the ship's mood and attitude. Not the insanity and over-the-top partying you see on a couple of the other lines. FYI - there were a couple of reunions going on for WWII veterans taking place. These folks were up there in years, and they were certainly shown a great deal of respect over the week-long cruise. I think if this was Carnival or even RC, they would have been out of place and probably made uncomfortable by the typical passenger's behavior. Just my thoughts.
For our mood at the time, this cruise was perfect for us. Rest and relaxation was our goal - and we got plenty of that !
The ship is very new, just having gone into service in 2010. Everything is fresh and shiny-looking, with the exception of some areas of the carpets in public areas. (Wine, beverage and food spills no doubt.) No scuffs on the walls, no peeling wall coverings. All painted areas are fresh and bright, but not garrish, like the crazy wild color combo's you see on Carnival. During the first 48 hours, it is not self-service in any areas -- they take this step to keep cleanliness and hygiene levels up ( to prevent any noro-virus problems.)
One nice thing about this ship is, they don't bug you -- they seem to be more laid-back in regard to gambling, photos, shopping on board and so forth -- more than many other cruises. You get the feeling you're in more of a floating resort, and less of a shopping mall.
We chose to use the pool in the Atrium area -- it's smaller but very nice. Also, they have a retractable roof, which came into play when it rained, or if the wind got to be too much at certain times. Something worth mentioning: it was sometimes difficult to get a lounge chair because the pool area is relatively small ( it's a smaller ship than many we have been on, and it is also a narrower ship ! ) And, there are private cabanas on that deck, as well as the spa entrance -- these all reduce the deck space available for poolsidelounge chairs.
Entertainment provided is definitely for the older crowd -- music included 50's and 60's stuff -- and even the occasional big-band sounds of the 40's. The live entertainment shows were good to above average -- we had a comedian one night whose act and style reminded me of Paul Lynde from the old Hollywood Squares. They also had their four best males singers do a show similar to the Tenors often seen on PBS -- this was a series of songs where they highlighted the individual singers as well as the group. It was pretty decent, very good for cruise-ship entertainment. Something a little different, a little fresh as these kinds of shows go.
The food : probably the best we've had on a cruise in the past 5 or 6 cruises. Great variety, high quality, and not just from meal to meal, but also from day to day. A lot of creativity here, especially with cold fruit soups, desserts, and a lot of the ethnic foods were offered as well. Since the wait staff, cooks and chefs are Phillipinos and Thai, those particular Asian foods were awesome. The service was always attentive and though not perfect, we give it very high marks. We only ate at one of the premium restaurants (with an up charge) - the Pinnacle Grill. They served a menu that was a product of Le Cirque in New York City. My wife had Chateau Briand and I had the rack of lamb ....... simply wonderful in both cases.
Here was a downer of sorts: they tell you they offer wi-fi throughout the ship, even in your cabin. Yes, it's true - but the service is so slow, so poor, I could not get my relatively new Windows 7 laptop to go past the homepage, and just getting that to load took seemingly forever. I wasted $15 and was not able to get my emails in the cabin. I did NOT sign up for the minutes plan, suspecting the service might not be that good - but it was far worse than I ever expected. I asked for a refund, but the nice lady at the front desk pretty much blew me off, suggesting I use one of their computers in their internet cafe. I declined. The next day, I was able to catch free wi-fi on shore in Puerto Rico, so I got my emails. So, if you can avoid it, don't waste your money ..... or at least just use their computers, not the wi-fi in your cabin. You might have a more successful experience here.
The excursions - my wife and I are on a somewhat tight budget. Also, we are not athletic or particularly active - so we chose accordingly. We only went on one -the riding tour to the Yunque Rain Forest. It is a beautiful place and worth seeing, especially if you've never been to a tropical forest or jungle-like area. The transportation to and from the ship though, about 1 hour each way - that "mini-bus" had awful suspension and the roads we took (regular city highways) were in pretty bad shape. So if you go, be prepared to be severely bounced and jostled. I came off the trip sore and tired, as did my wife. I was disappointed in the ride, not the destination.All things considered, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon in PR. One thing I will mention before I leave the topic of Puerto Rico -- the city, the roadsides were the dirtiest of the places we stopped at -- it resembled a drive through Queens NY. To be fair, San Juan is a city, not a tropical beach resort stop. But I think the people could do more to encourage tourism by cleaning up their city, the highways, etc. Just my 2-cents here.
Turks and Caicos - pretty place! We went to the beach close to where the ship came into port. We went to a public (?) beach near the John Glenn exhibit and while the water was clean and the temperature was very nice the beach but !!! - shallow water areas are very tricky / dangerous to walk on. Rocks and deep potholes you cannot see in the first few feet from shore (despite the fact the water is crystal clear) make it very easy to slip, fall, or even twist an ankle. So, be forewarned.
St. Maarten was clean, pretty - and we simply walked in town. We were totally comfortable in every way - security was good and the people were pleasant and friendly. I wish we had more time on this island. Then again, my wife and I have been to St. Maarten a couple of times before, so we were content just to walk around in town,having seen much of the island already. Many people did take and enjoy excursions but as I said earlier in this article, my wife and I took the lazy and easy route on this trip. We walked into town, visited shops along Front Street and took the water taxi back to the ship.
Half Moon Cay was spotless, and getting on and off their privately-owned island was fast and efficient. They had a variety of amenities available, but we simply took our towels, found a couple of lounge chairs, swam a little and relaxed. It was a beautiful day for us in every way. There is a bar there called "I wish I could stay here forever." -- Yep, this was a little slice of paradise. No pan handlers, no hustlers, no one bothered you. The BBQ lunch that was provided was simple: ribs, burgers, hot dogs, etc.and safe to eat. Plenty of servers and plenty of places to find a seat at a table under shelter. I cannot think of anything negative to say here, unless you happen to be looking for a REAL local town, native people and so forth. For us, this was a very high quality relaxing experience.
Getting off the ship -- very well organized ! -- no long lines that were unreasonable, and we were treated well at every step along the way.
So -- there you have it -- a very excellent trip !!