We just disembarked on Sunday 12/2 from the Nieuw Amsterdam and wanted to share what a great cruise it was for us as a second time HAL cruiser. Many of our comparisons will be with the Eurodam, which we cruised six months earlier.
We drove up from the Keys early on Sunday 12/25 and stopped at Total Wine for our wine pick up. We found ordering the case of wine online to be the best thing as the store does not open until Noon and there is a group of 40 people waiting to get in. When the store opened it took about 10 minutes for them to locate our case, check the contents and we were out the door. By 12:30 we had dropped off our Avis car at the Hyatt and were on a shuttle bound for the ship immediately after. Upon arrival at 12:45 at the revamped Pier 26 we were whisked to the Suite check in line and in our room by 1:05. Absolutely quick and efficient! The only delay in boarding is the bottleneck caused by the photographers right before entering the ship.
We booked the corner aft suite 4176 and as we have stayed at the opposite end on the Eurodam in (4181) were pleasantly surprised not to see any major changes from before. The room is a great space with King size bed and under bed storage, loads of closet space with tons of hangers and good drawer and cabinet space throughout. The one change we noted is that you must insert your key card into a slot next to your door upon entering the room to engage the lights and electric. This is a great energy saving feature however tough to charge any iPods, iPad; unless you were in the room with the keycard in the slot. Our bathroom was spacious with a double sink, shower and separate tub. We also noticed a great touch with the addition of Molton Brown bath products in our room: we received Kadu Plum shampoo, conditioner and lotion in a generous 2.7oz size. This was in addition to the Elemis products already found in the room. In fact we commented on how much quieter our room was compared to the Eurodam during rougher seas as there was not the creaking nor groaning we heard in February.
In addition what we find that sets HAL apart is the service is just phenomenal. Our room attendants Seno and Indra were fantastic and would magically have the room ready whenever we left for breakfast or dinner.
Great shape overall. In fact we were surprised to hear that the ship was due for dry dock in the spring. All of the public areas were well maintained and nothing looked worn or damaged. In fact the color schemes and decor of the N. Amsterdam seemed more up-to-date and tasteful than the Eurodam. The art collection was especially interesting to view. We rented a two person Cabana on deck 11 and again loved the space. The furniture was a step up from what we found on the Eurodam with more covered loungers.
The only flaw we noted was a sewage odor near the Pinnacle Bar the last few days of the cruise, it was not a constant smell but apparent.
This is where we have to give the nod to the Eurodam over the N. Amsterdam. While the service was never really bad there were some moments when it just fell flat or was non-existent.
The areas that seemed to constantly shine: Silk Den and Tamarind were fantastic and the staff were friendly, engaging and super-attentive. We had lunch and dinner at Tamarind and commented that we should have more dinners there as the food is tasty and inventive while the service is genuine. The wait staff actually made great suggestions rather than just agree that all the items on the menu were great. The Dining Room was also a pleasant surprise as we heard stories of long drawn out meals and poor service. This was not the case at all our team was quick to take orders and pace the meal to our speed. Yes they charge for cappuccino and espresso but $1.75 is not going to ruin a cruise over it. We give the edge to the N. Amsterdam in these areas.
Some of the not so good moments and experiences came as a surprise. The Pinnacle Grill service was extremely inconsistent as we had breakfast there almost daily and dinner two nights. I am not sure how they run things as far as who is the waiter or bus person but the water glasses empty and waiting for plates to be cleared was just not something we expected. Breakfast was the worse of the two: after having two weeks of breakfasts on board you get to know what the pattern should be: menu, coffee, juice, offer a pastry, take the order....on numerous occasions no juice was offered or no pastry, coffee was poured once and then not refilled. Dishes were left on the table. The epitome of the lack of service came at 9:03 one morning when we were denied seating as they closed at 9:00. There were two notable bright stars in that area were Luis the matre d and Penny one of the wait staff, both of them were excellent! The same lack of service was consistent in the Cabana Club, on our previous cruise the two attendants were constantly around to assist and on this cruise they would be gone for 30 minutes at a time. The Eurodam definitely gets the edge. My partner and I laugh these off as First World problems as they don't diminish our cruise but just make us scratch our head and ask what is it that we are paying for here?
Great food overall. What I think we most enjoyed about the main dining room were the portions. So many places have determined that quality is quantity and we loved the sensible portions provided for meals. We never left the area hungry nor stuffed that we wanted to just retire for the night. My expectations in the dining room are that they are cooking for at least 700 people per sitting so to expect the moon or the stars is just setting up for a disappointment. The Tamarind far exceeded our expectations as the Vietnamese Lamb was just fantastic! The service and presentation of the meals was well paced and inventive. Our only dining mishap was our first meal at the Pinnacle where we experienced slow service, the food was ill prepared: my bone in rib eye was 30% gristle and our potatoes were over seasoned with nutmeg. Very odd. Our second meal there was spot on flawless: great pacing of the meal, attentive service, well prepared and executed main course. We had booked the $89 Master Chef Table at the Pinnacle for later in the cruise but canceled the dinner due to the quality of food and service during breakfast and dinner. $90 can get you a decent meal in Chicago in a Michelin 1 star and we cant even imagine that the $89 would leave us nothing but short on being overwhelmed. I know I sound harsh on the Pinnacle this go around but it was a highlight on our last cruise and just left us with 'meh'.
Schmatlzy and very loungy! The one exception was the last night comedian who actually was funny, on point, and current with his humor. As for the musical acts and numbers, they remind us of a Vegas or Poconos nightclub act. We are surprised that something this dated as remained on board.
Overall we give the cruise a 8.5/10. Not perfect but certainly nothing that would keep us from coming back.