The wife and I decided to take a week on the high seas opposed to a week of skiing in Utah. We wanted something quiet, relaxing, and relatively free of children and Holland America Line fit the bill for us. We sailed with HAL 9 years prior on the MS Zaandam out of Port Canaveral. The service was impeccable and we truly enjoyed ourselves! This time we chose the MS Nieuw Amsterdam out of Port Everglades on what they termed a western Caribbean cruise, but it was more of a central route. We drove down from North Florida arriving at the port around 11 a.m. There's a lot of construction going on at the port and some of the signs were confusing, but we managed to locate the correct terminal. I dropped the wife and the luggage at the curb and parked the car ($15/day or $105/week). We handed our luggage to the baggage handlers, tipped them, and went inside.
The embarkation process went very smooth and we were on-board by noon. We were greeted on the gangway by a crew member and told that our cabin was ready, so we headed up to drop off our carryon luggage. They offered to show us to our cabin, but we told them we could manage ourselves. We were assigned cabin 8144, a deluxe verandah, category VA. The cabin was on the port side of the ship on the Navigation Deck, deck 8. The room was very clean, but seemed to be showing its age a bit. Shortly after we arrived at our room, our luggage began showing up! Within 10-15 minutes all of our luggage had arrived and we met our cabin steward Made (pronounced Maa-Day). He was very friendly and helpful all throughout our cruise. We brought a cooler full of sodas and water that Made kept brimmed with ice for the entire trip! We found our cabin had ample storage for all of our clothes, luggage, and gear. At 4 p.m. we were off! On our way out of the channel we were wished bon voyage by the friendly residents of Fort Lauderdale and nearly ran over a sailboat that had drifted into our path. The entire boat shuddered when the screws were thrown into reverse and a quick thinking pilot boat operator tossed the wayward vessel a line and pulled him out of our path! What a way to start our cruise!
That evening we had reservations at the Tamarind restaurant. The wife ordered a seafood medley of some sort and I ordered the beef tenderloin with onion rings. Mine was terrific, but the wife wasn't crazy about her entree. It had a bit too much garlic for either of us, but the rest of the meal was great, especially the fresh sushi. Soon thereafter we retired to our cabin for the evening. We were exhausted from being up at the crack of dawn and driving 250 miles. One thing we didn't realize was that our cabin was located directly under the aft pool deck. Sometimes during the day you could hear the band if they played, people sliding chairs across the floor, or the early morning cleaning crews as they washed down the deck. Fortunately, this wasn't a big issue for us because we weren't in our room during the day too often and it never kept us from sleeping. On Wednesday evening we had reservations at Canaletto's. It's not really a restaurant, just a corner of the Lido deck they change into an Italian restaurant at night. The food was also very good and we both enjoyed our meals that night.
My wife and I both felt a change in HAL from our last cruise 9 years prior. The quality of service and overall cleanliness of the ship wasn't the same as before. Granted, it's better than Carnival, but you could tell that Carnival has had an effect on HAL! Many of the carpets are worn out and need replacing. We kept finding (knocking over) glasses all over the ship, especially in the Showroom. When I went to the Spa for our couple's massage I found a pair of slippers in my assigned locker - they were both for the right foot , one was a small and the other a large! One night I found blood on the floor and toilet seat of the spa's restroom. Our TV was not working properly and I reported it 3 times - nothing was done. One day I found one of the large column's in the Lido pool area being held together with 7-8 pieces of masking tape. The couch in our cabin needed to be steam cleaned - it had stains.
I'm also not one who enjoys the shows on cruise ships! My wife has to drag me kicking and screaming the whole way then forces me to sit through the entire performance. Honestly, I didn't think the shows onboard were very good. They seemed to be over performed, corny, a little over the top and my wife actually agreed with me for once. I did enjoy several of the other entertainers on the ship! The HAL Cats are the ships house band (I know, it's a corny name), but they have some very talented musicians. The piano man, Eric Fisher, was very talented as was the duo in the Explorers Lounge - Adagio (piano and violin). We both loved the 2 comedians, Julie Barr and Rich Purpura, and wished that they had performed more than just the 2 shows during the cruise. They also had a young man by the name of Chris. He performed with the group Cantare and in the production NYC. I don't know why he's performing on a cruise ship, but he was an absolutely amazing and talented singer and needs someone to come along and make him famous.
Overall, the food onboard was very good and they offered a wide variety for most every palette. We regularly frequented the desert bar and absolutely gorged ourselves on chocolate at the Dessert Extravaganza on Friday night. If you would like to reserve one of the ships cabanas for your cruise, you will need to call HALs ship services at (800)541-1576. We found all of the ships cabanas had been booked prior to sailing. It would also be wise to book your excursions prior to sailing as well. As a word of warning, the casino, like all other casino's, smells of cigarette smoke! It didn't bother me as much as it did my wife, but it is definitely there. We did not spend much time in the casino, but the casino staff were funny, pleasant, and very helpful. My wife won $65 bucks and I won nothing!
We had a couple problems with weather on our cruise. Nothing that HAL could have done to change things, but still a little disappointing. Due to rough seas and high winds, we weren't able to stop at Grand Cayman. This too is a tendered port with no dock and the seas that day were 6-8 feet. For safety reasons the Captain decided to by-pass the island and continue on to Cozumel. We were refunded the full price of our excursion and the Captain gave everyone a complimentary glass of champagne at dinner that evening. The next day in Cozumel, we found that our excursion (clear kayak and snorkeling) had be canceled due to high winds. We were again told that we would receive a full refund and that we could book another excursion. We chose the Jeep tour and snorkeling adventure! It was full! So we booked the 2 o'clock catamaran, snorkeling, beach party. Thank god that didn't get canceled! LOL. We had a blast and got tons of great pictures.
I hope I don't sound like one of those nasty, bitter old goats that loves to hear themselves complain about anything and everything. Like I said before, we had a great time and we will likely cruise with them again in the future. Nearly every member of the crew was cheerful, helpful, and kind and we will miss them very much. Yes, we had a few hiccups on our trip, but nothing that ruined or dampened it. I'm sure that most people wouldn't have even noticed any of the things I mentioned in my review, but if what we saw or experienced can help someone else avoid something that could potentially ruin their trip, then I have done my job. The one thing that I wish HAL would do is break away from this corporate Carnival mess and get back to the once great cruise line that they once were.