We just returned from the Mediterranean Empires cruise on HAL's Nieuw Amsterdam, 18-30 July, 2012. It was GREAT! We absolutely LOVED it! The ship was great, smiling staff, and I felt completely spoiled! This was our first cruise, and we really didn't know what to expect. However, the staff really made us feel at ease and we were able to spend a lot of time visiting with new friends from around the world. We didn't take any of HAL's excursions, but went on several privately arranged ones. My husband and I are grateful for the excellent people we met through Cruise Critic's forums for their tour arrangements. We had small group tours, usually 7-9 people, and really enjoyed ourselves.
Re the food: It was fine. I had read that some people were upset with the lines in the Lido restaurant. We never encountered more than four people ahead of us, except on one night at the Flavors of the World station. Even then, the line moved quickly. No pushing, shoving, or any other discourteous behavior. We went to the Tamarind restaurant and when we told the manager that we are vegetarians, he said that we could have a reservation on any night. Even if they were booked quite full. It had more to do with menu selection, and on the night we went there, the chef created a special soup for us. It was delicious! We also dined in the Manhattan, and that was fine. Everyone talks about the bread pudding and it was wonderful. I wasn't impressed with the ice cream, but I noticed that made no difference to the children on the cruise! The Canaletto restaurant was great and we enjoyed our dinner there with friends on the last night of the cruise.
Our cabin: A very small interior cabin. The only issue I had with this is that it was hard to not make noise and wake up my husband, when I woke up early. I did have issues with the bed. The bed was soft enough, but for some reason I had a lot of back pain during the cruise. Throughout the cruise. However, I got a couple of massages and worked out twice a day and that helped. I had trouble finding a quiet place to read in the early morning (4:00-5:00 am, before the gym was open). The deck had jazz playing, the Lido had classical music (least intrusive for reading to me), etc. I just wanted good old silence. I really couldn't find a place with no music playing. Guess HAL feels that it's better to have music on all the time.
Staff: Absolutely wonderful! Michael and Jobelyn from the spa were really helpful to me. They arranged to give me massages at short notice, due to the pain I was in, and Michael actually gave me a longer massage than he was required to do, because I had had so much pain. Compliments to Big Mac (waiter and bar staff member), Daniela (the life stylist), and our room steward who tidied it three times a day and brought our laundry to us everyday.
Best Tip: I got this off of Cruise Critic. Get the unlimited laundry package! You'd be surprised at how much laundry you go through when it's hot outside! We went through two changes of clothes per day, at least and that wasn't including gym clothes! It simply was because it was so hot when we went into various ports. All that stone really holds the heat in. By the way, you do check off the box on the paper which goes into your small laundry bag, which reads "Unlimited Laundry." However, you also have to make arrangements through the Front Desk for this service. Although I didn't know to call the Front Desk about this until several days after we arrived on the ship (because a previous review said to just check the box on the paper and I didn't have the info in English in my cabin), HAL did not charge me extra.
Things I Wish Had Been Different: There was a Venetian Ball on the 19th of July (2nd night of the cruise) and I wish that we had known this before we went on the cruise. A lot of people said the same thing. I could have bought a nice mask in Venice, as we certainly saw many for much less than they were charging in the ship's shops. AND, a much bigger selection. So, if you are going through Venice, do yourself a favor and get a mask in advance. Also, my husband is Dutch and so all the cabin literature was in that language. My Dutch isn't good enough to get through all that information, so I had to call twice in order to get all information sent up in English. That's not the end of the world, but I might have known about the Venetian Ball even sooner than I did (3 hours before it started) if I had had that information in English.
Best Thing About the Cruise: The time my husband I got to spend together, and the new friends we made! If you want to be completely spoiled and cared for, this is the way to go!