A trip that began in snow ended in 82 degree F. weather in Ft. Lauderdale. After a pre-cruise stay at the Hyatt Place, 17th St. location, we began a never-to-be- forgotten cruise courtesy of Holland America's wonderful crew on the beautiful Nieuw Amsterdam. I've seen other reviews of this beautiful new ship--some not so encouraging to new cruisers. Shame... Clearly, if you need a warm, relaxing vacation, with some nice excursions, a Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam is it. After many years of saying we would never take a cruise, we succumbed and were delighted with the outcome.
We took a shuttle from the Hyatt Place for $14. Embarkation was relatively quick and simple. Holland America has numerous helpers along the way. After submitting our boarding documents and receiving our room cards, there was a short wait for boarding by number. We were in our cabin by 12:10 and off to lunch in the main dining room, since one of us had sailed previously with HAL.
Our cabin was a Superior Suite midships with a large balcony (7 ft.X 13 ft.). Lots of storage available, which we needed because of all that we brought. Bathroom was large with double sink and storage shelf underneath, also with glass shelves at each corner. Jetted tub and separate shower were also welcome assets to the bath. Service by Dohti and Jazhir was excellent. They kept our ice bucket filled and the room spotless. And, of course, the evening turndown service with chocolates and towel characters was much appreciated.
The showroom venue was impressive--all the features of a real broadway stage with orchestra pit, stage turntable, multiple stage risers, video screens, and comfortable seats. We viewed two outstanding shows: 'Recycled Percussion' direct from 'America's Got Talent' and Las Vegas, and 'Cantare,' a quartet of exceptional male voices singing 'oldsters' tunes. Both 50-minute shows were unexpectedly great and highly recommended. We by-passed the other shows.
Dining was even better than expected. We only ate two evening meals in the main Manhattan Dining Room, but only because we were either too full or eating in the specialty restaurants. Both the Pinnacle Grill and the Tamarind are not to be missed. We've dined in many fine establishments over our lifetime, but the food and service combination of each of these venues was as good as any in which we've eaten. I don't believe I've ever had a better New York Strip Steak as the one served in Pinnacle--perfectly cooked, tender and moist. My wife had an equally good Filet. Exceptional! The Tamarind provided the best Pompano fish I believe I've ever eaten (and I love Pompano.) We were delighted! Also, the Lido buffet had a variety of foods to satisfy everybody. Except I couldn't bypass the Eggs Benedict every morning. And the desserts-- Oh, Yeah! Alas, the Dessert Extravaganza I had expected was replaced by a Mexican Fiesta poolside. Oh, well... I survived.
Our only participation in the spa services was my full-body massage. Ruby was excellent. Highly recommended.
Shore stops included Half Moon Cay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Key West. We're not much into guided tours or excursions, unless it's really something we're interested in, so we only went ashore briefly at Half Moon Cay (where I'd previously ridden horses in the surf and jet skied), and at Grand Cayman, where we shopped, looked for our U.S. Money, and had chips and dip with drinks at the Marriott on 7-mile beach. Grand Cayman is worth a full vacation... We didn't go ashore at Cozumel, preferring to stay on board and enjoy the boat's activities. At Key West we visited the 'Truman Little White House' and jet skied around the island on a tour we pre-booked ourselves.
The ship had lots of activities, only a few of which we participated in. I particularly enjoyed the Microsoft workshops presented by John Roberts, a Microsoft PhD himself. In his 30 to 40 minute workshops, he covered lots of info on Windows 8, which many of us were interested in, as well as some camera topics. Enjoyable and learned a lot!
A few thoughts about this cruise and cruising in general: The primary market for Holland America Lines is senior citizens, generally aged 55 or older. Many have sailed many times. When I see low reviews or nit-picky reviews, I have to ask, "Is it because of the cruise line or because of the customers themselves?" The Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship with excellent service. Are there sometimes glitches? Of course. Our cruise had a few, but we dealt we them in a way that we always do. Deal with them and move on. Most of the crew works 7 days a week some 12 hours a day. They, too, may have a bad day. I read several reviews about reduced food service hours. The Lido has some lines open virtually all day and usually for a late snack around 10:30--11:30 pm. AND room service 24 hours a day at no additional charge except for tip. Overall, we had a marvelous time and hope others will also. O.K., I'll add one nit-picky thing: On our cruise's two formal nights, we ate in the Pinnacle Grill and the Tamarind where we saw male individuals in no formal attire whatsoever--no tie, no jacket. Com'on, HAL; enforce the rules.
Best suggestions I can give: Plan thoroughly with backup plans for glitches. Review everything you can concerning your ship and itinerary. Prior knowledge is power. Determine your best cabin type and register early to get it. Hint: HAL had some nice interior cabins that could be coupled with luxury poolside cabanas for a couple of days that could offset the cost of a balcony suite. Expect additional costs each day of drinks, tips, excursions, spa treatments, shopping, etc. Disembarkation was slow but we were off ship and at the airport by 9:50. Wish I could have stayed on the Nieuw Amsterdam...