This was our fourth Hal and first Neuiw Amsterdam cruise. We take the same cruise each winter at this time on HAL (our favorite mid priced line) and once again had to deal with winter weather and changing air reservations to get to Ft Lauderdale on time.
The ship had its normal crowd of 50+ year olds (younger than usual); all having a great time
The NA is best of the four HALs that we have been on. We had reserved an SZ superior verandah and were upgraded to a Delux veranda suite -- a fabulous and spacious well-appointed suite located on deck 7 amidships (Cabin7049). Great room opposite the Neptune Lounge -- talk about convenient. The cabin had many closets, a dressing area, big bathroom, huge deck, and our travel mates were next door and we joined our verandahs giving us 40' of space. As it was a new ship everything was in great shape and we liked the colors, design and appointments.
HAL has the highest repeat business/guest loyalty in the Carnival empire (Fact) and this is due to its efficient, happy and ever helpful Indonesian and Filipino crew. The main difference between this and other HAL cruises was the additional service you get with suites. We were recently on an Azamara cruise where everything was included and the service was exceptional, and that is exactly how this felt. We had complimentary alcohol, champagne and bottled water in the room. Also provided were really good binoculars and hair dryers. The concierge and cabin crews we super attentive, pleasant, professional and very helpful. We had an emergency and had to call home and they arranged that as well. The Neptune Lounge across the hall was always well stocked from morning till night with appropriate and tasty treats and savories and one of those modern do-it-yourself coffee machines that made the best cappuccino. It was also a great wifi location and place to hide out. This was our first experience with a suite on HAL and it was well worth it. Interestingly, the price was about the same per day as we paid on Azamara for a suite. If you can afford the difference, suite living is well worth it. Embarkation, getting on tenders, restaurant reservations, are all easy plus all the free food and coffee.
Our cabin is directly across from the Nautilus Lounge, which requires a key card for entry and only the larger suites have access. Now this is a good thing and a bad thing. Monday we ordered our standard breakfast (coffee, juice and toast) in the room. Toast is always cold on Holland-America, almost as cold as the butter. In the Lounge, there is a toaster; you can have salmon, capers (my favorite) a variety of breads, bagels, fruit, yogurt and the much sought after coffee machine (Same as on Azamara). I have at least 6 cappuccinos a day, maybe more, and I will miss this when I get home. Also in the lounge is Celine, the wondrous woman who helps you with any problems you may have and magically helps you fix them.
Meals -- typical HAL buffets for lunch, the main dining room was consistent with our past experience. Menu selections were typical and we had no complaints. For the main dining room we chose fixed seating time at 8:00 and the dining room was never too crowded and the serviced was well paced. The fare was typical of HAL and we enjoyed all our meals. We had breakfast in the Pinnacle several times (for suites) which was lovely and quiet with great service. Tamarind, their Asian specialty restaurant (for 15$) was excellent with an imaginative and varied menu; really well done -- you get a lot of food.
Pinnacle for dinner was really good -- I had a table side Caesar salad and rib eye cooked to perfection. Beautiful venue with excellent service.
HAL still allows smoking, but are fewer places to smoke but it is handled really well and the smokers nor non-smokers had any complaints.
Shore excursions -- we usually fend for ourselves ashore but this trip we realized we should've taken more excursions than we did. Three out of the four stops were Carnival built sights and Mahogany Bay had some interesting tours of the jungle that we missed (they did have neat beach to hang out in and had a ski lift to get there and see some canopy). In Costa Maya we took the Chochaban ruins tour -- very nice and all I needed for this venue.
The best excursion I took was a three-hour tour of the interior of the ship. This is only offered on a few Carnival ships, only once a trip and is only available on some trips; it requires a minimum of 5 and maximum of 10 people, and costs $150 -- a truly memorable experience. A senior officer was our guide. We met the heads of each area for a presentation followed by a Q&A. We saw the bridge (fascinating, looks like a game arcade with its toggle and graphic navigation tools; but they still use a real sextant to make sightings each day and night) and they maintain manual log). The garbage room -- we learned that everything is recycled, but much of it is manually sorted -- burnables, plastics, metals, glass, hard food waste, etc. The laundry facilities were also smaller than imagined four huge washers and dryers, an organic dry cleaning facility, an intriguing sheet iron and folder, and even funnier pants presser. However, we learned that the ships bathroom towels (4,000 a day) are hand rolled twice a day. The bread and bun bakery was very small but efficient with a very interesting cart-at-a-time vertical convection oven. The food and liquor stores were very organized -- not like a small Costco). We did learn that the ship runs on rice - the Indonesian and Filipino crew consuming 350lbs a day -- breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. The main kitchens were smaller than expected but very well organized. The theater backstage tour was interesting -- these are very professionally equipped performance spaces with a substantial crew running them. We got the back stage tour including the costume area. Everyplace was clean and bright. The engine control room -- was, very reassuring -- most questions had to do with the recent Carnival fire and foundering and why that couldn't happen here (the two redundant engine rooms are 100 ft apart with separate electrical panels).
We look forward to booking this same cruise next year.