I have sailed in three HAL ships during the nineties and 2001 and with high expectations was looking forward to the new ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam. So I booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise for April. Knowing the ports of call, my interest was in the new ship and in the pampering experienced in previous HAL cruises. Well, it was overall disappointing. Perhaps if it had been my first cruise I would say it was sort of OK but being an experienced Mariner, the HAL standards have decreased and promotion and selling strategies, uncomfortably increased. A Verandah Stateroom was booked and within 48 hours started receiving calls and e-mails with promotions to upgrade to one of the suites. The marketing continued throughout the cruise and on the room TV advertisements on the tours in the ports of call were constantly played again and again. And a "behind the doors" or so, tour of the ship costs now $150.00 per person while previously these were free.
The stateroom was smaller than the comparable ones from the older ships. Had a TV with an almost burned out screen. The bathroom was clean but not so the doors with greasy fingerprints. The bed and pillows smelled like if having been in a humid closet for a month. The one thing that was improved for the stateroom was the A/C which was silent and great cooling capacity for the warm Caribbean. The fresh flowers were some cheap ones that died in the third or fourth day and the basket of fruit had a banana, an apple and an orange. Once eaten, never replenished. The room steward was friendly and his service was good. The ship rented "cabanas "next to the interior pool are for a price of like $200, totally unreasonable.
Being used to an excellent dining experience in smaller HAL ships, I must say that the food in the formal dining room was boring, portions seem for persons with weight control diet and service was very slow. What used to be crab legs is now a "crab tower" which left everyone hungry; some crab meat in cylindrical shape 1" by 1". Servings were inconsistent as for size and presentation was uninteresting. The Lido buffet was even worst, with lack of organization, same courses every day and long lines. There is a grill next to the inside pool serving burgers and sandwiches and it was very, very slow. The pizza place opens at 11:00AM and nothing to remember about. The positive thing was the Asian restaurant Tamarind, which was superb in service and food. But this has a surcharge of $15.00 per person per dinner (lunch is free). As in other cruise lines, you have the option to pay up to $120.00 for a "chef or captain nine course dinner" which I thought was ridiculously expensive. I ordered room service for breakfast and the selection was very limited but always on time. A couple of vodka/tonic drinks in the Crow's Nest were $27.00. Thankfully I had prepaid for wines and a bottle of Vodka "to be consumed in the room".
The new ship has many differences compared with the older ones and these are not positive from my point of view. The formal restaurant on decks two and three which encompassed both sides of the ships plus the rear (in the Massdam and Rotterdam), has been changed and the Nieuw Amsterdam's formal two tier restaurant has a wall in the left side of the ship so you will miss the potential views on that area. Similar situation with the Crow's Nest which in the older ships had a view of almost 270 degrees. In the NA it has a library and video games on the right side and you will have view of the front and left side only. The usual two tier staircase has been replaced by two single tier glass staircases which are not impressive as in other ships. The carpets were from discolored to dirty in the areas where the main stairs are. For being a ship that is only three years old, needs a major face-lift already.
The Broadway style nightly shows of the nineties has been replaced by a magician, a comedian, some singers and the so. Do not expect to see elaborate costumes and even less an orchestra. Noticed that like me, many passengers did not booked tours on the ports of call. Most of them just walked through the town browsing the stored that are called "tourist traps". Even in San Juan, did not hear of anyone taking the tour to the beautiful rainforest of El Yunque. In a couple of ports the arrival/departing schedule was changed leaving little time to explore whatever there was to see. I wonder if this has to do with the lack of booked tours.
HAL's staff used to be characterized by a smile trough the whole cruise years ago. Well, the smile is now gone. I was surprised to see that the ship's staff seemed like if they were uncomfortable, either with the company, the work schedules or even with the passengers. And taking about passengers, the ones in this cruise were not the typical HAL ones. Many young couples, a few kids (most well behaved) and several loud intoxicated passengers who should have been in a Carnival Cruise and not in Holland.
My overall impression of the new flag ship from HAL is poor. Never in my history of cruising have I wanted a vacation to end but happened on the 5th night. And once again I state that it is a comparison with cruising experiences from the nineties and in smaller ships from the same company. And all of this brings me to consider Celebrity for my next cruise.