We are a retired couple and live in Palm City FL. We are just back from the December 16 2012 sailing of the Nieuw Amsterdam- our third cruise with HAL. Wanted to share out experiences and thoughts. We started cruising together in 1987. Ships were smaller then -- there were no ships with balconies -- and there were no alternative restaurants -- only fixed dining. We are originally from Chicago, lived in Naples from 1994 to 2004, moved back to Chicago and then back to Florida in 2009. We have experienced flying to cruise ports, driving to cruise ports and taking the cruise bus to cruise ports. This was our 36th cruise. We love to cruise this time of year and decided to go with HAL because of the itinerary. Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Maarten, and Half Moon Cay.
We booked the cruise the end of September and booked an inside guarantee cabin. I saw that the price went down, called HAL and they upgraded us to an HH obstructed guarantee. When we finally got a cabin number we were in a D outside cabin. A few days before the cruise, we got an e-mail offering us a verandah V cabin for $29/person and we took it. We ended up in cabin 8101. This was a great location, starboard side of the vessel between the mid-ships and aft elevators and one deck down from Lido deck. It proved very nice.
Prior to this cruise we always took the Cruise Connection bus to the port. They went out of business earlier in the year and then when they re-started the business they didn't stop anywhere south of Fort Pierce-so we had to look for an alternative. We ended up driving to the port and parking in the Park-N-Fly lot close to the port. It was so easy and inexpensive that we will do that from now on. We left our home at 10am and were on the ship and in our stateroom by a little after 12 Noon. The embarkation process was excellent. We met our room steward and then went to the dining room for lunch -- this is a nice perk for Mariner guests-those who have cruised with HAL before. Our lunch also was excellent and a good start to the cruise. We then explored the ship since we were not familiar with this ship -- it was well laid out and easy to navigate. The ship holds 2106 passengers-I don't believe it was sold out completely. The ship is a really nice size and looks like a ship should look -- very traditional.
I'll break this down into four parts -- Ship, Food, Ports, and Personal Observations.
Ship-beautifully done, very clean, laid out well. There are 11 decks and three sets of elevators and stairs-forward, mid-ships, and aft. We used to climb the stairs -- no longer climb -- use them going down, not up. The elevators were fast, and available-hardly ever had to wait. The mid-ships elevators were interior and also had two elevators running up each side of the ship. There were areas that you could only reach using the forward elevators or the mid-ship elevators. The Crows Nest-which houses the bar, dance floor, observation area and the coffee bar and the library was only accessible from the forward elevators. Tamarind and the Silk Den -the alternative Asian restaurant and lounge -was only accessible from the mid-ship elevators. The Lido was on deck 9 aft and all the other public areas were on decks 1,2,3. There was plenty of outside deck space -- the aft deck and pool is adults only and didn't have a huge amount of shady space -- but a good amount of lounging space and also covered space to sit at tables and chairs and eat outside. The Lido pool area has a dome and that was nice-there were times it was closed and times it was open-we found some very comfortable chairs at that pool area and enjoyed sitting there reading. Hal has decided to put about 6 Cabanas on the starboard side of the Lido deck-curtaining them off-and taking up valuable deck space. There are other Cabanas that are out of the way of the public decks and we thought these to be a waste of space on the Lido deck. The gym was well equipped -- I used it very early morning for my own stretching and yoga before 7 am. Did not use the spa services so I cannot speak to them.
FOOD- food is a very subjective topic. We enjoyed the food -- but it wasn't stellar. We could always find something on the menu to order. We used the dining room for all but two meals and enjoyed it. Breakfast was excellent -- quite a variety and everything we tasted was quite good -- try the Belgian Waffles -- they are so good. Service at breakfast was also excellent. It is so much nicer being served in the dining room than having to navigate the Lido just after getting up in the morning -- just my opinion. Lunch was also good -- portions nice and service good. Dinner -the food was good -- at least the choices we made -- I concentrated on fish and also had the rack of lamb-everything I tried was nicely made and tasty. We don't eat a lot of beef so I can't speak to that -- my husband did try the prime rib and wasn't happy with it. The service was extremely slow in the evening -- we had fixed dining at 8pm and a table for two. The location was excellent and we enjoyed that. The dining room staff-waiters and asst. waiters -- were all very friendly and welcoming -- I just think that there were too few of them for dinner and there seemed to be little supervision. The same was true of the lack of supervision in the Lido at lunchtime -- tables weren't being cleared and reset in a timely fashion and coffee, tea and other beverages weren't being refilled quickly. The food selection was good-but we only ate two meals there. We didn't go to any alternative restaurants -- we were going to try Tamarind -- but couldn't get a reservation -- friends did and said the food and service was excellent -- we talked to people who had gone to The Pinnacle and loved it as well as LeCirque. We were able to have room service the last morning on the ship before debarking and that was a real plus-it was delivered on time and was quite good. I would always recommend doing this so you don't have to fight the Lido on the last morning. Makes debarking that much easier.
PORTS-The itinerary was Sea Day (Formal night), Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Sea Day(Formal night), and Half Moon Cay. Of course, we enjoyed the days at sea -- we cruise for relaxation, the ship, and the food -- I read three books on this cruise -- so it was definitely relaxing.
Grand Turk is mostly a beach day-the Carnival Breeze was in port with us -- we walked into the port, and took a look around -- have been there many times -- so just went back to the ship. There is a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville with a huge pool there as well as some shops and lots of beach area -- the water is beautiful. The beach, when you enter the water, tends to be a lot of large rocks, good to wear water shoes there. We were there from 8am to 2:30pm and left at 3pm.
San Juan was a 1pm arrival and 8pm departure. If you have never been there there are many historic sites to see and Old San Juan is fun to explore. The ship also offers a number of tours -- we have been to San Juan many times and did not get off the ship. The 1pm arrival left lots of daylight to explore and we enjoyed the ship while others were exploring. There was one other ship in port with us -- a Disney ship.
St. Maarten is one of our favorite ports in the Caribbean -- we arrived at 8am and left at 3pm -- the first time we have departed that port before 5pm -- it is actually two countries and they meld well -- the Dutch side is excellent for shopping and the beach and boardwalk are lovely. The French side is equally lovely with many beautiful beaches -- shopping and eating there are more expensive. We took the water taxi around 10am into Phillipsburg, took our time perusing Front Street and enjoyed the day -- took the water taxi back around 2pm. There were two other ships in port with us- Celebrity Summit and RCL Freedom of the Seas- so the town wasn't extremely crowded. It was a beautiful arrival and departure -- very enjoyable. A word to the wise, if you are going to explore the French side of the island, do it early in the morning and come back to Phillipsburg after that-traffic can be heavy in the afternoon and you want to be sure to allow enough time to return to the ship.
Half Moon Cay is HAL's private island in the Bahamas -- it is a beautiful place. When I got up that morning the temperature outside was in the high 60's -- a definite chill in the air. It did warm up, but stayed somewhat cloudy with a good wind. Since we live in Florida, we can go to the beach anytime, so we stayed on the ship and enjoyed it. We arrived here at 8am and left at 3pm.
The sea days that we had offered many things to do or not depending on what you wanted. The fact that the Lido pool has a dome is so nice since even in cooler and windier weather, it can be closed and the pool can be enjoyed as well as the deck space there.
OBSERVATIONS Having cruised on many different lines(Commodore, NCL, RCCL, Carnival, Princess, Premier, Costa, MSC, Celebrity and HAL), it is always hard not to compare. Many things HAL does very well for our taste. The embarkation and debarkation are excellent. The outdoor spaces were to our liking as were many of the lounges. The stateroom was so nice -- great having a tub -- more room for showering. Plenty of closet space and storage space. Easy to get around the ship. After observing the way many people dressed for "formal" nights, I think the time has come to only have one "formal" night on a 7 day cruise or maybe do away with them. We love dressing up -- but it was apparent that very many people do not any more. We saw everything in the way of dress on these nights from very formal to extreme casualness. No one was turned away from the dining room as far as I could see.
The Mariners luncheon for repeaters was just that -- a luncheon -- maybe they had something else for those who have cruised with HAL more than we have (3 cruises including this one). But there were no awards presented and they gave no information of plans HAL has in the future -- the Captains Welcome Aboard was in the Showroom with a glass of champagne just prior to the show that night -- very quick and to the point-he did introduce the heads of departments.
There was a nice mix of passengers age wise. Not a lot of children. All in all it was a very nice cruise. Having said that, we will choose Princess or Celebrity before HAL in the future.
I did take pictures of the cabin 8101 if anyone is interested, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to answer any questions about this cruise or any others we have taken.