I will start out by saying I give the LRBC charter 5 starts. I will give the ship 2 1/2 stars.
Blues cruise review Nieuw Amsterdam Jan 20 -27/13
The air was fragrant; the Jolly Roger was flying so it must be the annual LRBC in the Caribbean in January!
The LRBC and ship's crew were working hard to get the stages and sound equipment up and running as quickly as possible upon boarding. The pool deck was turned into a mini festival area minus the mud and porta potties! The extra bar was set up to service the thirsty masses; extra servers were on deck working hard filling our drinks. The Crow's Nest is turned into the jamming area for the professional and amateur musicians would play there every day til the wee hours of the morning or sunrise, whichever came first! The Queen's lounge would be taken over by fabulous bands for the week, with a brief cooking demo by the Grammy Award winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien.
The ship is a full charter so many of the ships normal activities and routines are gone for the week. No HAL cats, no cheesy production numbers, no captain's cocktail party. Which for our blues cruisers is a huge improvement! We get a week of top notch blues and roots musicians. Jams that go on day and night. Opportunities for musicians to meet up and record with others that they may never get to do so with their touring schedules. Just a few of the headliners include Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band, Elvin Bishop and Mickey Thomas, Mavis Staples, Tab Benoit, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Big Head Todd and the Monsters & the Mile High Horns (with Ronnie Baker Brooks sitting in), Monkeyjunk, Tommy Castro & the painkillers, John Primer Band, Kelly Hunt, the Voodoo women impromptu band with Samantha Fish, Debbie Davis, Mavis Staples, Kelly Hunt, Danielle Schenbelen, Eden Brent and Tony Braunagel (the token male from the Phantom blues band) and many more... All in all a fabulous line up. The music starts at about noon and goes on til 5am or later. Lots of energy drinks being consumed this week!
For those of you who wonder what happens on a full charter here is some information. On this particular charter the pool deck sees the addition of large stage, a huge extra bar area, the hot tubs are covered over to make extra seating, the lounge chairs are removed and more chairs and small tables are on deck. The lido pool has no private cabana areas, just seating and loungers. The pool and hot tubs are fully operational in this area. The spa seems to run business as usual, many folks will go there before the music starts. As an FYI, there were no chair hogs, folks just come and go. By noon the loungers emptied out. The shops are dead dead dead. There is a Legendary shop set up in one of the conference rooms where blues cruise clothing and CDs are sold. The theater is the silent auction room where on this cruise paintings, memorabilia and guitars from Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and ZZ Top were auctioned off (over $220K was raised for charity this cruise!). The ocean bar became a small jam area for whomever wanted to play. The explorer's lounge was empty. The diehard smokers were in the sports bar. A few gamblers in the casino. The piano bar was turned into a rockin' place by Eden Brent, Barrel House Chuck and Steve Willis. Many pro musicians turn up and jam there til 5am. The showroom has a little transformation -- rows of seats are removed and plywood is put down to make a large dance floor, extra bars are set up for the thirsty bunch.
The pool deck can easily have 1000 people or more there at any given time. The Showroom can be filled to the rafters. The Queen's lounge will be at full capacity with people filling the dance floor and every seat and aisle filled with people. The bar is hopping there too!
The cabin stewards do the best they can with some folks not even getting to bed til 6am. I don't think a lot of folks get their room cleaned during the day, only at turn down service. The dining room rarely is full. There are many folks who will eat in the buffet or grab a pizza slice. As an FYI the buffet and pizza on this cruise is open til 4am. The pizza guy and the assistant F&B manager were dancing up a storm at wee hours of the morning.
Most, if not all of the staff will be hanging out listening and dancing to the music. Some staff and crew request to be on this charter every year. I did hear from one staffer that this is a $10 million dollar cruise, which far surpasses any other 7 day cruise HAL does, even other charters. Hence why they let the Jolly Roger fly and let us make ourselves at home. Apparently the Blues cruise charter will drink more in 2 days than on a good week of a 7 day cruise. As far as I know, no one removes the tips either and most will tip over and above. The bar staff can make quite a few bucks on this cruise. I saw the cruise director once and he said the staff and crew were thrilled for us to be there as we were "a breath of fresh air" and hinting that on this cruise the average age was a few decades younger than usual. Very few complaints from the cruisers in general. Our complaints were that the food in the buffet area is downright awful, the pizza was terrible, room service breakfast was really bad and not once was our order correct, but the reality was we were there for the music. It was more a shrug of the shoulders, that's not why we were on board. Hubby and I eat in the Pinnacle or Tamarind every night, so no comments on the dining room, only from a friend who said the service was too slow to get back on deck and listen to the next band. It is a shame that we pay so much for this cruise and HAL can't step up their game in the food department.
We always get a balcony cabin and this year we chose to go right under the stage at the pool deck (8157) which was a great choice for us. The cabin was quite small. If we had to nip back to the cabin we could open the door and hear the music perfectly, the vibrations from the speakers were very intense (I swear you could see the ceiling move!) and was loud. It worked out great! The jams on the pool deck would go on up until about 4:30am. I will be our preferred area for next year as well. The "mole people" tend to choose the lower deck inside cabins so they can sleep for a few hours in the morning. Something for everyone!
Since this is a charter we get our own itinerary. The first stop was Half Moon Cay, which at the Stay Here Forever bar got a stage and Southern Hospitality (JP Soars, Damon Fowler and Victor Wainwright) played for a while the Lee Boys came on! It was fantastic! Smokin' Joe Kubick and the B'Nois King played acoustic guitars at the Pirate ship. I think many didn't even knew there was a BBQ happening. Drinks, music and beach were the order of the day. There was a wedding on HMC -- a lovely young couple enjoying the Lee Boys after their nuptials. We then had a sea day (all music til all hours) then Tortola where several of the local bars set up with local bands and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience played at Myette's. The beach was crowded with blues cruisers, there was a Costa ship in port I am sure they were wondering what the heck was going on. The next day was St. Kitts where may did excursions and checked out the island. We headed for Brimstone Hill and enjoyed touring the fort. The next two days were sea days, so all music all the time!
The LRBC tends to favour HAL as the staff and crew know the routine of the set up and type of cruisers and the expectations. The past October Cruise was on Celebrity Summit and there were many complaints of overzealous security. Yes we will bring on a case of wine, smuggle some booze but most will still rack up hefty charges in the week. We spent $1,200 even with our own wine and rum runners.
The HAL ships really offer no bells and whistles and are very basic ships. But for this type of cruise it works in our favour. To be able to turn the showroom, pool deck etc. in to usable spaces for stages and huge sound equipment it makes it a great spot for the bands.
One thing I noticed that the cabana's on HMC HAL jacked up the price, I think there was only one booked while we were there. Such a rip off. I noticed on the Carnival site that they charge $250 and HAL charges $399. So not worth it. The drinks package was upped $20 per day to $60 a day on this cruise. A little too expensive for us.
The biggest complaint I had on board where the bug bites I got (and others as well) at the Pinnacle grill on the first evening of the sea day. I was told to bring this up with the Guest Services Manager, but was pretty much ignored by the front desk clerk. I doubt they ever looked into this situation. It was appalling that the GSM did not follow up on this serious complaint. I have had other issues with other HAL ships in the past (particularly the Zaandam -- no a/c in our cabin and Maasdam -- disgusting and unsafe conditions in the pool areas) and the staff ignored those issues as well, so I can only conclude that HAL has the worst staff at sea. The ship was quite grubby all week, I did not see anyone cleaning or polishing common areas. Our toilet was not working for a couple of nights, I called the front desk at 5am (we just got in the cabin) and the silly nitwit at the front desk was going to call the cabin steward to wake him up to come to our cabin. I had to tell her that a plumber was needed, not the cabin steward. The plumber was doing his fixes from the hallway, I could hear the water running in the walls. I would never set foot on a HAL ship unless it was the LRBC charter.
This ship sails at close to full capacity of 2500, many of the quad cabins are filled. Folks will room with strangers just to get on the boat. The October 18-25th cruise on the Maasdam is now sold out. It is sold out for next January as well. LRBC office loves it and I am sure HAL is thrilled that it is guaranteed money for them in the future.
It was a great week and I look forward to the Legendary Rhythm and Blues cruise next year!