This is our 5th cruise together as a couple and our favorite cruise lines are still Princess & HAL. The companies are more similar than different, and the differences are a tug of war when deciding which line we'll cruise next: on HAL we love the Thalassotherapy pool, awesome happy crew, and dining that's a notch above. Princess has better laid out ships that never seem crowded despite having more passengers, atriums that are more alive and fun, and more onboard activities like Movies Under the Stars.
We just finished a pretty good 7 day Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Grand Turk was cancelled, which was fine with us since we've been there and were just planning on a day at the beach. The cancellation meant an extra sea day, and 12 hours in San Juan, both major plusses. We did hiking excursions in both San Juan and St. Marten. Both EXCELLENT tours but EXHAUSTING (HAL should really stress the physical nature of these hiking trips because some of the older folks had a More
very difficult time.) Half Moon Cay was beautiful.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is still beautiful and sparkling, even with a dry dock coming up in three weeks. The food was excellent all around, and our outside 'spa' cabin was HUGE with a HUGE window overlooking the ship's bow. The only drawback, albeit a major one, was that this ship was CROWDED! The 200 additional passengers compared to our cruise on the Vista Class Westerdam were felt more often than not.
We picked the Nieuw because it was HAL's newest and we wanted to experience all the new Signature Class bells and whistles. What we found were those bells and whistles are not worth the 200 extra passengers packed into the exact same amount of public space as the Vista class (Tamarind and Silk Den were always empty so they don't count.) Embarkation and Disembarkation were slow and disorganized, our beloved Thalasso pool and Thermal Suite were always crowded, there were actually chair hogs in the Cabana Club since the Cabanas were booked by many families and there weren't enough lounge chairs to go around! The Cabana Club stewards were excellent, and it was very convenient to have a place to drop our things. But it was open from 9 AM to 5 PM and the hours were enforced, which limited the daily amount of time we could use it, especially when in port. There was no 'light breakfast' as advertised, and the 'daily setup' of fruit and water got pretty sad as they day warmed up.
In general it seemed like there were people everywhere on this ship, with no quiet places to get away from it all (i.e. combining a library and the Crow's Nest lounge with a nightly guitarist is a bad idea), which is why our overall rating is a 3. From now on we'll stick to HAL's smaller ships Less
Plusses: HUGE outside cabin on Panorama Deck with a HUGE window overlooking the ship's bow. BEST cabin we've been in on any ship (we never use the balcony.) No noise from Crow's Nest, which was directly above us, or from Gym, which was directly below us. Very conveniently located since we need our espresso in the mornings (one flight of stairs up), we booked a Cabana (one flight of stairs up) and we made daily use of the gym and Thermal Suite (one flight of stairs down.)
Minuses: HAL should ditch the whole "Spa Cabin" designation. Yes, the room was close to the spa, but we still had to pay extra to use the Thermal Suite. The corridor in this area used the same bright purple NCL type carpeting, and Eurodam's private spiral staircase to the Thalasso pool is gone, so you didn't feel like you were in a special spa area. Inside the cabin, 2 pedometers, a yoga mat, an exercise DVD, a Bed Bath & Beyond 'water feature' and four free bottles of Vitamin water (refills cost extra) do not a spa cabin make. Yes, the room was great, just don't call it a 'spa cabin.'