Nieuw Amsterdam Review
Dates: March 17 -- March 31 (Collector's cruise: Eastern/Western Caribbean)
Cabin: 7088 (verandah)
First time on HAL. Several cruises on other lines/ships. Favorite ship so far is Azamara Journey. Second favorite ship is now HAL's NA.
Pre and post cruise stay: Embassy Suites -- stayed here before. Took taxi to and from pier -- much better than shuttle service.
Embarkation: Arrived around 11:30. Through security and sitting in chairs waiting to embark by 11:40. Sat about 20 minutes until our group number was called. We were herded into a line to have the welcome aboard picture -- which we found annoying. We could have made a big deal about it and skipped the line but decided it was only about a 10 minute wait. However, we liked other ships where there was sufficient room to just walk around the picture taking. Cabin immediately ready when boarding ship.
Cabin: Seemed just a little bit narrower than other verandah cabins we have had but I am someone who likes the coziness of the cabins as long as I have a verandah. Closet storage was good. No real storage in the desk. Small drawers in nightstand tables. Wall hung high intensity flexible stem lights on each side of the bed which were great for reading. Verandah normal size I'm used to -- 2 chairs, 1 stool, 1 very small round table. BED: after the first week of not sleeping all that well, I asked for an egg crate topper and that helped. For some reason just didn't seem as easy to get a good night's sleep on this cruise so it was probably the bed. Absolutely quiet location -- perfect location for us. Took the shoe holder for the bathroom door only to find that there is a large chrome hook that was in the way and I couldn't use the metal over-the-door hooks to hang it on the inside where I wanted it. Luckily I had some plastic luggage tag hooks that I used and hooked it to the chrome hook. Paid for unlimited laundry service both weeks and it was great. Clothes always back the next day. Liked taking a shower in the tub - so much better than those little showers we are used to.
Cabin stewards: Mada and DJ. Excellent service always with a smile. We often saw them scurrying about in the hall and they always asked if we needed anything or wished us a good day. Cabin always cleaned on our schedule and kept immaculate.
Staff in general: Friendly but somehow a little more reserved than on other ships. The lido buffet staff who have to serve the hot food to each person for every meal seemed less than thrilled with their job -- wonder why? No smiles just miserable looking faces. Don't blame them -- one of the worst jobs on the ship IMO. However, there was a young women (wore teeth braces) that always had a smile and didn't seem to mine dishing out ice cream over and over and over.
Casino: We always take $200 just to "fool around" on the slot machines a little each night before going to dinner. Most often we run out of money by the 3rd or 4th day on other cruises. This time we had a lot of fun. Although we came home with 0 in our envelope, we would lose $40 one day and then win $60-$80 the next; lose then win, etc. It made going to the casino fun. I expect to lose the money and look at it as an entertainment expense and we were entertained often for 30 minutes or so on just $30 each -- AND we only play $1 machines. Exceptionally nice casino staff.
Movie room: Very nice comfortable seats. A different movie was shown each day (I think 4 times a day). I would have gone every day if there had always been a movie I even remotely wanted to see. Bags of popcorn always on a table up front.
Computer/Digital Classes: This was definitely a highlight of the two-week cruise for me. The ship had a classroom with brand new equipment using Windows 8. Patti, the Techspert for this cruise, was excellent in working with cruisers with varied computer skills. I am a Microsoft Certified Master Instructor in the complete MS Office Suite but I stopped teaching 7 years ago when touch screens were just coming on the market and we were using Windows XP and Office 2000. I never knew about the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, SkyDrive, or HealthVault. When I got home I noticed the icons for Photo Gallery and Movie Maker but had never before thought to explore them. Granted I know a lot about Microsoft software programs so it might be easier for me to grasp new concepts, but I was exposed just enough to each of these products that I will definitely make major use of them at home. To me, the information I learned in these workshop classes made this entire trip worthwhile. I loved every minute of them.
Food: We never even walked into any of the dining rooms. We decided this trip to just "gut it out" in the Lido for all meals and go totally casual. Well, we were pleasantly surprised the FIRST week of the cruise. The food was excellent far exceeding any lido buffet on any ship except the Azamara. I don't eat much meat, but each night my husband had prime rib, excellent cuts of lamb, steak -- all cooked to perfection -- in his opinion anyway. Salad bar selection was very good once they got past the two days when it wasn't self serve. Fruit selection just lots of melons -- rare to see pineapple -- bowl of strawberries that weren't that great and bananas. They continued to have the hot food served by the staff and that really made getting food so much longer. Lots of grits offered instead of potatoes -- we can't stand grits. It was funny to stand in line and hear people ask for the mashed potatoes and be told -- these are grits. I guess lots of people like them or they are really cheap to make. Vegetable selection was heavy on carrots, but I always had a nice salad at lunch and dinner. Desserts were actually good and I had cheesecake for just about every lunch and dinner. THEN THE SECOND WEEK STARTED AND IT WENT DOWNHILL FAST. Of course, this was now the week before Easter so the ship was noticeably more crowded. The week before always could find a seat; the second week it was a real challenge and some times I just gave up. No prime rib at all this week. No nice cuts of lamb -- only greasy lamb shanks. Steaks (according to my husband) were dry, stringy, etc. The disappointment was definite. Rarely saw a cheesecake at any meal. Grits continued to be served instead of mashed potatoes. They did have lobster tails both weeks on the second formal night but they were the usual cruise ship fare -- ok but nothing to get too excited about. We felt that we were no longer on the same cruise ship as far as food goes.
Activities: Never went to the pool; the only activities we did were going to movies and I went to the computer classes. HOWEVER, I do want to mention that I did look over each day's activity sheet and felt that this cruise had way more to offer then other ships we have been on. Of course, the ultimate goal of most "activities" are to sell something but they also had a few educational lectures. If I had been inclined I could have been busy all day each day and not with silly things like belly flop contests. We also went to the lecture on feet where they try to sell you the Good Feet arch supports. My husband has had a lot of issues with hip pain when walking and is pretty much on the desperate side for relief. He has inserts from podiatrists and has purchased and returned insoles from various stores that use the machines that you stand on, etc. Well, he was well versed on Good Feet but never wanted to spend the money for them (desperation has its monetary limits). The fitness staff fitted him for a pair and let him wear them for six days. Imagine his and my surprise when they actually worked for him. Still has a little discomfort but nothing like before. We walked for a few hours on the uneven streets of Old San Juan and he never sat down or needed to rest. We walked laps everyday around deck 3; again no problems with hip pain. We walked all over Sawgrass Mills Mall and mall walking always seems to give him issues. Needless to say, he ended up buying the arch supports for $189 which is much less than he could ever find them at home. And here I was making fun of him for going to a cruise ship "lecture."
Fitness area: I used the weight machines and free weight area several times. They have managed to fit in a lot of nice equipment in a small space. Don't use cardio machines, but seemed to be a lot of them. Also this fitness center offered many more classes (most were free) than any ship I have sailed.
Entertainment: We don't drink and never went to any bars. Any music we would like always started after 9 and we are in our cabin for the night by that time. Did go to the Cantare show and it was pretty good. It was painful to watch the four men walk around, however. Really need some serious choreography work. Went to the NYC Show and thought it was on the level of a high school performance. Most singing was off pitch and I could have danced as well. Really bad. Also, found the background annoying for the most part. So, IMO entertainment (as far as musicals in the theater) was not worth the effort. They did have a guest diva performer but we didn't go -- so that might have been a good show.
Ports: When we cruise the Caribbean it is for snorkeling at every port we can. We also try to find new places to which to return for land vacations. Anyway, I chose this Collector's cruise since we could snorkel 7 times. Had never been to Grand Turk and I had a great private snorkel trip booked there only to find out when we boarded the ship that Grand Turk was being skipped due to too many people coming back on ships with illnesses. I was not a happy camper. The first time to Half Moon Cay it was too windy so the snorkel trip was canceled at the last minute. The other port we wanted to return to was Grand Cayman -- too windy/choppy for tendering so another sea day. That added two more sea days to a cruise for people like us who don't particularly like sea days. But everyone that cruises knows the risks of these things happening; just was sad for us since we vacation to snorkel and we missed 3 or our 7 opportunities. Here are our opinions of the ports:
St. Maarten -- Actually stayed on the French side for five days two years ago and had two other port stops on two earlier cruises. This time we booked a 4-hour snorkel trip with Capt. Alan. We were picked up promptly at the end of the dock. There were 14 people on our boat and there was just enough room for everyone to be comfortable. Snorkeled in two spots. Absolutely clear water but not much in the way of sea life but that is St. Maarten -- not great for snorkeling. We were on the boat named The Awesome and many people sat up on the front edge and had great fun "riding" the waves. The crew did an excellent, safe trip. Stopped at Pinel island which I thought was a waste of time. You can book with Capt. Alan without any concern about getting back to the ship on time -- they are fanatical about time.
Half Moon Cay -- stopped there once each week. Weather was perfect -- actually was perfect the entire two weeks -- just some choppy water for snorkeling. Here we had no choice but to take a ship snorkel excursion. 22 people on the boat but the boat was large so not crowded. Well run, safe, easy on and off the boat into and out of the water. Water crystal clear and enough sea life to make it interesting. Not great but fun. The one day we went on shore to find the excursion was just canceled. BOO
Roatan -- Have stayed on this island for a week in 2009 for a week of wonderful snorkeling. Visited last year and did a Victor Bodden private day and snorkeled at West Bay -- wasn't as impressed as every one else seems to be with West End snorkeling. However, since our week in Roatan was the best snorkeling we have had anywhere, this time we tried a private snorkel at Upachaya. This was very well run -- clear water -- but choppy seas again. She said that the day before she had to cancel due to the choppiness. Pretty much sea life and a very safe operation. Nice lunch was served afterwards. The only thing that I didn't like was no meeting time set at the port so we and others sat for an hour waiting for others to arrive. One couple never did so finally we left. It didn't cut into our tour time -- but was annoying to hurry to get off the ship ASAP and walk up that hill only to sit and wait.
Costa Maya -- had never been to this port but have stayed a few times in Mexico -- Tulum and Cozumel. Had to do a ship snorkel trip here as well as I couldn't find anything private. As usual too many people on the boat. The trick here was to be in the experienced group which got off first and went farther and stayed out the longest. It was well run -- again clear water -- and a nice reef -- but hardly any sea life.
Fort Lauderdale -- on our turnaround day we took the ship excursion to Sawgrass Mills Mall. We like shopping, and it was a nice mall. Since it was a Sunday and the mall doesn't open until later, one of the higher end stores (I think it was Macy's) sponsors the excursion and opens an hour before the mall and "graciously" lets people shop in their store until the rest open. Well, we weren't going to spend more than five minutes in Macy's so when they opened the door to let another busload of people in, we just walked out. We then walked to the other end of the mall to Target, which was open, and bought some essentials we needed and by then the rest of the mall was open. Macy's did hand out a mall coupon book to everyone and a bottle of water and bag of chips.
Disembarkation -- the WORST ever. We opted to be in the last group off the ship as we planned to just go to the Embassy Suites, drop off our luggage and then taxi down to the beach area for the day and check that out. Our time to get off was 9:30. We still weren't called at 11. Our cabin steward let us stay in our cabin until 11 but then said he had to clean the cabin. We sat in a bar area on deck 2. Within 10 minutes they just announced that everyone had to get off the ship -- the new people had to get on. So, okay, off we go. The line to get off the ship was short -- walked right off and got our luggage in a few minutes. THEN, WE STOOD IN THE IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS LINE FOR ONE HOUR AND FIFTY MINUTES. Yes -- almost two hours of snaking through the line. We were not out the door until 1:15. We got a shared van and by the time we were at the Embassy Suites it was 2 and we just decided to go to Shula's and grab a burger and go back to the room -- we were exhausted. So, there went my brilliant idea of exploring more of Fort Lauderdale. People in the line were really stressing about their flights.
All in all, we would rate the NA a 9 (their highest rating on their survey) for the first week and just due to the food rate it a 5 for the second week. I would sail on the NA again but never over a holiday week. I can only assume that for some reason they offered "cheaper" food when the ship is more crowded.