Detailed Review of Nieuw Amsterdam March 2012
NIEUW AMSTERDAM: 7-DAY EASTERN CARIBBEAN: Departure date: 03/18/2012. Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, At Sea, Grand Turk, San Juan, Saint Maarten, At Sea, Half Moon Cay, Fort Lauderdale.
EMBARKATION PROCESS: I arrived at Pier 26 at 10:45am and waited until the terminal building opened at 11:15am. I was at the very front of the line and was among the first ten passengers to board after the suite guests.
SHIP CONDITION: Excellent in all aspects with the exception of the water marked carpeting in the elevator lobbies. I'm sure this will be corrected during a future dry dock.
DEMOGRAPHICS: HAL caters to a more mature, well-traveled group of individuals: I saw about a dozen guests under the age of 18, and another dozen guests under the age of 25.
SHIPBOARD DECOR: Nieuw Amsterdam is elegant, traditional, and comfortable. Most furnishings are identical to Eurodam, however, I do prefer the Eurodam's darker color scheme and atrium light fixture. Nieuw Amsterdam boasts shades of brown, yellow, and beige in many of the public areas.
ACCOMODATIONS: The accommodations are excellent, and in my opinion, are second only to those found onboard Queen Mary 2. The wall-mounted TV was a welcome addition to the standard verandah staterooms; however, it would have been nice had they kept the shelf above the desk to use for the serving tray and ice bucket. The stateroom attendants were friendly and asked what time would be best to make up the stateroom. I requested 10:00am and 8:00pm: Both attendants were waiting outside the door with a smile each day at these times. Upon arrival, the balcony door handle was broken, but was fixed within one hour. The key-card light switch was convenient: All lights can be turned off right from the door.
MANHATTAN DINING ROOM: We were seated at a large table for second seating dining. Service in the main dining room was very poor for the first two days, but improved dramatically by day three. We we're told by the Front Office that the service issues were caused by a newly implemented runner system in the galley and that there were many complaints. Service was excellent from day three forward because the Yum Yum Man cleared all the plates from our table and poured our water. (He wasn't, however, available to give us ginger after dinner and didn't ring the dinner bell!) The Matre'D stopped by each subsequent evening and the Front Office called the stateroom two times to ensure that the service had improved. Service was impeccable from that point forward, and our waiter even brought out a large serving platter of lobster tails to replenish our plates on the second formal night. It was a nice, unexpected surprise.
FORMAL DRESS CODE ADHERENCE: 90%
PINNACLE GRILL RESTAURANT: This was my first time dining in the Pinnacle Grill after four cruises with HAL. The food and service was outstanding. After consulting some fellow Cruise Critics, I ordered the Lobster Bisque, Caesar Salad, Tantalizing Lamb Skewers, and the No-So-Baked-Baked-Alaska. I wanted to order items that are prepared or flambeed tableside for an added element to the dining experience and I was not disappointed. The Baked Alaska is a million times better than that served in the main dining room. I'll be back twice next cruise! I never made it to the Tamarind.
LIDO BUFFET RESTAURANT: The Lido Restaurant was consistent with those found onboard Westerdam and Eurodam in quality and presentation. The fresh juices were a nice touch at breakfast, as always. I enjoyed the Steelite Brand crockery and coffee mugs used in the Lido and am looking to buy a set online. I always found a table straight away, and oftentimes ate outside on the back deck (non-smoking side). There are always tables with a view out there if you find yourself eating at a peak hour!
GENERAL ONBOARD SERVICE: Excellent. Bar service is even provided on the top deck above the Silk Den and Tamarind Restaurant. Abel, a server who works on the open decks by day and in the piano bar by night, is outgoing, energetic, and quick to remember your name and favorite drink. He got high marks on my comment card.
PORTS OF CALL: Having been to these ports numerous times, I was generally disinterested and spent most of my time onboard the ship. However, if you like to lie on the beach, Grand Turk is the stop for you. There is plenty of shade on the beach, which is only a short walk from the pier.
WEATHER AND SEA CONDITIONS: The weather was fantastic: Warm and sunny with the occasional five-minute tropical burst of rain. Moderate to heavy swells affected the ship until reaching San Juan, but calmed afterward. I was surprised at how little the ship creaked and vibrated after two turbulent voyages on Eurodam.
ENTERTAINMENT AND SHOWTIME: The entertainment was the only negative to this cruise. I felt that the quality of the entertainment was nowhere near on par with what I experienced onboard Eurodam and Westerdam. To be fair, this could be because I had many of HAL's well-known entertainers on my previous sailings: Joel Mason, Jimmy Maddox, and Jonathon Hawkins, all in the same week. The production shows featured four male singers and two female singers, instead of the typical foursome. There seemed to be fewer dancers as well: Maybe everyone just wanted to sing? In my opinion, the "NYC" show was not good. Instead of using props, a bright (blinding) LED screen offered vistas of New York City. "Cantare" and "It Takes 2" were slightly better. The comedian, Jeff Nease, was funny and worth seeing. He acted out a scene with a passenger similar to the I Love Lucy episode, "The Handcuffs," in which Lucy had to use her arms in the place of Ricky's from behind the stage curtain.
MUSIC: Every venue on the ship seemed to close earlier than on my previous HAL cruises. There was nothing open after the show except the Casino and the Piano Bar, where Piano Man Eric sang until 11:30pm. Piano Man Eric is on his second four-month contract with HAL, and previously sang for Carnival Cruises for seven years. He was decent, but didn't interact with the guests like Piano Man Jimmy. I did listen to Jenny and the HAL Cats on the pool deck and in the Queens Lounge, but the open times usually conflicted with late seating dining. I recommended on my comment card that Adagio Strings begin playing at 7:00pm in the Explorer's Lounge instead of 8:00pm. This would give late seating diners another place to listen to music before dinner. The Explorer's Lounge was always full of people waiting to enter the dining room, but there was never any music. I didn't bother much with the Neptunes in the Ocean Bar because the band was on break more than they were singing.
BEHIND THE SCENES SHIP TOUR: I was one of five passengers to take advantage of this tour during the cruise. The tour costs $150 and is worth the price if you're interested in what goes on behind the scenes on a cruise ship. Our group met the onboard marketing director, Marc Jacobs, in the piano bar and toured the crew-only areas for three hours. We visited and spoke with department officers in each of the following areas: backstage at the theater, the laundry room, the sewing room, the control room, the engine room, the water desalination plant, the ships generators, the food and beverage stores, the incinerators, the garbage room, the bakery, the Manhattan Restaurant galley, the Pinnacle Grill galley, and the navigational bridge. The highlight was touring D Deck, located three decks below the waterline. A steep staircase, similar to a swimming pool ladder, provides access to the engine rooms. Although very noisy, it was well worth the climb to see an area of the ship that few passengers ever visit. Decks B, C, and D are so disorienting: It is a completely different world. The tour was very informative, and I learned so much about the operations of the ship. On the other hand, this tour made me realize how poor the conditions are onboard for the technical/mechanical crewmembers. Everywhere we walked, I saw dozens of crewmembers sitting on the steep staircases on B and C Deck, taking breaks and taking with each other with hardly any room to move. The food waste I witnessed during the tour was also shocking. The tour reminded me not to waste food in the Lido Restaurant and to always be overly courteous and friendly with the crew. The tour ended with cocktails and Hors d'oeuvres in the Crow's Nest and the presentation of a bag full of souvenirs. This tour also gave me amble opportunity to speak with the onboard marking director and hotel manager about my aspirations to work for a cruise line.
DISEMBARKATION: As per usual, self-disembarkation was called at 7:30am and was very convenient.
BOTTOM LINE: I will certainly be back on a Holland America sailing. For some reason, I do prefer Eurodam, but I had an excellent experience on this cruise: HAL continues to provide a premium mass-market experience. While it is obvious that Holland America Line is not a luxury line, HAL does provides some special touches that make you feel like more than just a number.