This was our 4th Holland America cruise experience with approximately 35 other cruises on many other lines, past & present. We chose this sailing based on our desire to experience an Atlantic crossing and sail on HAL's newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.
First, the excellent: We have learned from experience that no one does logistics as well as HAL. We were traveling from Miami on an award air ticket connecting through JFK and then onto Barcelona. We were very fortunate to have Hurricane Sandy pass by Florida before we left and not yet arrive in New York before our connection. Flights were seamless although we often thought of the thousands of passengers delayed just 48 hours later.
We booked a one-night hotel package in Barcelona through HAL primarily for the ease of transfers we experienced in the past. Even though our flight landed at 615 AM, there was the HAL representative waiting for us with a smile right outside customs. A note on the Barcelona airport- it is clean and incredibly efficient with baggage carts everywhere (for free). The line at immigration took less than 1 minute and customs was even quicker. Within minutes we were on our way to the Hotel Melia Barcelona, which is located in a quiet part of the city. We loved the Melia (see our review on Trip Advisor) and again, the transfers to the ship the next day were flawless. We were somewhat paranoid when we first got to Barcelona having read about flagrant pickpockets and petty crime. We found the people very friendly, the city incredibly clean, and at no time did we feel threatened or intimidated.
Boarding at the Barcelona pier was also quick and efficient and we quickly found our suite. For this trip we decided to try a deluxe veranda suite, which comes with added amenities such as access to the Neptune Lounge, and all laundry/dry cleaning included. The friendly concierge explained to us that the lounge was our "front desk" and they could take care of all our needs- they lived up to that promise.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautifully laid out ship with many public rooms scattered throughout. It is not difficult to find a nice place to enjoy your time aboard. We were happy to discover HAL granted our request, made well in advance, for a nice dinner table for two in the main dining room, the Manhattan restaurant.
Now the good, and not so good:
Some reviewers have complained about the main dining room and we would agree that the bright red decor is a bit much especially when the lights are up high. Food was generally ok, although the service was a bit slow at times and several dishes came out quite cold.
Most enjoyable, meal wise, were our daily "suite" breakfasts at Pinnacle Grill, our two dinners at Pinnacle Grill, and Canaletto, the Italian restaurant. All offered great food and friendly service. We also ate at the Asian themed Tamarind Grill, which offered an eclectic menu and friendly service.
We visited three ports prior to our crossing of the Atlantic: Cadiz, Lisbon, and Funchal (Madeira). Deciding to bypass the shore excursions, we did fine on our own and especially enjoyed Cadiz. There was not much information provided by HAL for independent exploration but, again, we felt very safe everywhere.
On our second day onboard, it became obvious that a health issue was occurring as the staff was wiping everything down and removed the bread, salt/pepper shakers, and towels from the common areas. We always appreciated that HAL never allows self-service for the first two days but clearly this was beyond that. We did finally learn from a crewmember that we were in "Code Red" health alert but no information was given to the guests on what to do if they didn't feel well or what the status of the outbreak was. Approximately 24 hours later, the restrictions were lifted but again with no explanation. We can only speculate they didn't want panic onboard, but some information would have been helpful.
On the eleventh day of the cruise, the health restrictions returned and away went the towels, etc. This condition was more severe and the spa pool and all hot tubs were closed for the remainder of the cruise. This was very disappointing as we enjoy these amenities and had paid for their use in advance. We requested a prorated refund and did receive one. Again, this happened without explanation until the following day when it was mentioned during routine announcements. We had no idea of the extent of the outbreak or how long the measures would last.
A few notes for folks considering an Atlantic crossing: Our weather was generally very good with moderate seas the first two days of the crossing. After that, it was very calm and it got warmer each day we got closer to Ft Lauderdale. One benefit of a westbound crossing is gaining an hour's sleep every other night or so as you make your way! Sea days were filled with relaxing on the Promenade Deck, reading, or enjoying the spa amenities (until they shut down)- all lovely. Entertainment on this ship was very limited and the times not conducive to those who liked to eat a bit later. We had the fixed 8 PM seating and there were few shows we could see after dinner. The demographics of the ship were standard HAL, many couples in their 60s plus but a nice cross section of all ages. As expected, there were very few children but the ones onboard were very well behaved.
All in all, we enjoyed this trip and HAL continues to deliver a good product with unique itineraries. Unfortunately the two health outbreaks and somewhat disappointing experiences in the main dining room made what could have been an excellent cruise only a good one.