For starters I will need to say that my Wife and I have only cruised Royal and our experiences were not perfect by any means. But we never gave ourselves the opportunity to try other cruise lines for comparison. Although we had heard the HAL was low key and geared mainly for the older generation, we thought it would still be a nice relaxing cruise.
Our cruise was leaving Ft Lauderdale with Sailing Dates of Dec 22nd with a return Date of Dec 29th. We were sailing east to Grand Turk – Puerto Rico – St Thomas – Half Moon Cay.
Before I start my review I would like readers to know a little about us. We are couple in the age range of 45-50 – We love to laugh and have a good time – We like to socialize – we are not heavy drinkers – and not really social drinkers – we are somewhere in between having 2 or 3 will get us us by for the evening. We are smokers but we are polite with our habit. We enjoy all types of music except for the Head Banging and Rap. We are self-sufficient but understand that some jobs such as cruise crews require us to be waited on – Not a Problem with us but we do not expect to be spoon fed.
With that being said I will start my review of the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. Please keep in mind everything I stated above when reading his review – It is very lengthy but very informative. If you plan on Cruising with HAL – I would highly recommend you grab a coffee and take notes – and if you have any other questions PLEASE feel free to ask.
I will begin my review with the HAL Customer Service Reps – First and foremost remember they are selling you a cruise so no matter what you ask or how many times you they will always tell you what you want to hear. I recommend you search through Cruise Critic and email or call people to get their opinions. Being new to HAL my wife and I spent over 4 combined hours on the phone with our HAL Rep asking questions about the ship – the crew and excursions we were assured time and time again this would be the best cruise pleasure we have ever had – Well let’s see…..
Over the final week prior to our ship leaving port we heard rumors that Puerto Rico excursions may be closed during our visit on Christmas Day but HAL could not or would not confirm these rumors but again assured us there would be something to do…. So when we crossed the state line in Florida early afternoon of Dec 20th I asked my wife to call our HAL Rep and confirm if these were rumors or fact – so she placed the call and sure enough we were told that all excursions in Puerto Rico will be closed for December 25th. Understandably its Christmas however this is one of the questions we kept asking our rep over and over again and we always received the same answer “Don’t worry the Island will be open “Plenty to Do” and as stated above – they were saying what we wanted to hear! For the record all Government Sites were closed. What I fail to understand is, this is a normal HAL cruise port during the Christmas holiday so what makes 2013 any different than 2012 – 2011 etc.. Christmas is Christmas all over the world Same Day same Month every year, so I can honestly say HAL knew Puerto Rico would be closed but failed to disclose this to us – Would it have changed our minds? Probably not but it would have been nice to know ahead of time. HALS response to this was – There is a variety of things to do and the Ship will be offering two excursions – Zip Lining and Island Tours, anything else you wanted to do was up to you to find a local and arrange yourself. (How Nice)
Let’s talk about the ship - The ms Nieuw Amsterdam
Deck 1 - Main
The Amsterdam is a small ship with absolutely no “wow” factors – the ship is poorly designed for those of us who like to move around and explore and see the remarkable wonders of a cruise ship – in this case there are no wondrous attractions on board except for a mini-main stair case mid-ship located by the front office. That’s all there is – nothing more. Deck 1 is also the home of the showroom at sea – a very poorly designed theater located at the front of the ship – If you sit in the lower portion of the theater you will have complete disruption of the stage from the upper level over hang.
Deck 2 – Lower Promenade
Deck 2 is comprised of the Manhattan Restaurant which costs additional $$ - The menu consists of the exact same food you find on the Lido deck – There may be a couple items added to the menu but 90% of what you see is on the menu for an additional cost is what you can get for free at the anytime dining. There were countless occasions where we seen other passengers Dressed for a romantic night dinner in the Lido Restaurant and countless times we heard “Why pay extra when we can get the same thing free”. This deck is also home to 3 lounges – the casino and the Pinnacle Restaurant which again is dining for an additional fee, with the same food offered on the Lido Deck. Don’t waste your money – this is also the entry to the upper level of the show room with the bad viewing.
Deck 3 – Promenade
Makes up the ships Stores – a computer room – a reading area Bars and photo gallery – That’s It!
Decks 4 through 8 Are Passenger Rooms – with no easy access unless you are at the Front – Mid or Aft Ship.
Deck 9 - Lido
The Lido Deck – this is where all the Anytime Dining Occurs
Please pay special attention to the name “Lido”
Along with the Lido deck you also get these hidden passenger Surprises:
1. Main walkway for Pools located Forward and Aft of Ship
2. Main walkway for Anytime Dining and Seating
3. Main walkway for all Traffic on Ship
4. The Canaletto Restaurant IS NOT a standalone restaurant – What Holland does is partition off a part of the anytime dining area on the Lido deck - So you still get the interruptions as mentioned in items 1 -2-3 above and best of all you get to pay for it. In essence you pay extra for a nice romantic dinner while people in their swim suits walk by you 5 feet away. And for extra ambiance you get the over enriched screams of Children and some Young Adults jumping in pools listening to music or the occasional inebriated passenger that comes walking through looking for coffee to help them sober up.
Remember when I said pay attention to the word LIDO? Well I looked up the word LIDO to get its definition and this is what I found:
In the United Kingdom and some other countries, refers to a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun or participate in water sports. On a cruise ship, outdoor pools and the surrounding facilities are referred to as the lido deck.
So absolutely this definition applies to the Amsterdam – the Pools and all the traffic leading to and from the Forward and Aft parts of the ship come through here. There is absolutely no other way to get from one end of the ship to the other. So the bottom line is – whenever you are eating – whatever time you are eating – you will be subject to this type of interruption. Deck 9 is also home to the Massage Therapy and work out Gym. So please keep in mind all of this is happening while you are eating or trying to eat – Highly disorganized.
Deck 10 – Panorama
Partial Passenger Cabins and Nothing else
Deck 11 - Observation
A basketball Court – Reading area and an Overpriced Coffee house – Keep in mind you can only get to deck 11 from the forward of the ship – there is no elevators at the Mid or Aft that go to Deck 11 because Deck 11 doesn’t exists from Mid-Ship Back.
Let’s talk about Food:
Keep in mind there is little diversity on the HAL cruise ships – The crew and its compliment is 90% Asian so there is a definite speech barrier breakdown and most of the food is geared toward Asian cuisine. With that being said the food is extremely Bland – and when asked for special item cooked you were greeted with a stare down from the chef like you just insulted his family and friends.
We all enjoy food – and cruise ships are known for their food right? Not on HAL, the menu consisted of the EXACT same food everyday – Morning - Afternoon and Lunch – There was absolutely nothing new offered or presented – Unless you wanted to pay extra at one of the premium restaurant venues.
Remember those days in High School where you had to wait in line and when it was your turn to get food and you were still trying to figure out what sounded good to try? And the pressure of people in line caused you to just spew out something to get on your plate and move along? Well if you don’t remember and or never had that experience then you will love eating on the Lido deck – The food is served cafeteria style so you get to stand in line staring at the cooks like a lost Freshman at his first day of school – knowing that at any time the person behind you might go into a rage from waiting too long in line, so when it’s your turn you yell out the first thing you see – which undoubtedly would be the last thing you would ever want to put in your mouth. That is exactly how you feel. It’s not only a very degrading feeling its demeaning and unprofessional, and keep in mind while you are waiting for your food in a line for 10 – 20 minutes there are passengers from Pools and Bars walking through – the same area you are standing in. Unacceptable!
Truth be told my wife and I did not have a complete meal on this cruise or were we able to eat together – We never finished what we were served. There were actually only two times we ate; The First is when we ordered room service which consisted of 2 Club sandwhiches and Chips. And the Second believe it or not is when we were in Puerto Rico we ordered a Pizza from Dominos and brought it on board. And the crazy part is we were approached by other passengers telling us “Wow good Idea wish we would have thought of that”! – What does that tell you about the food?
Moving on – the refreshments were not any better you had Coffee – Tea and Watered down Orange Juice at the ends of the Cafeteria – These areas were not always full of product and at 9pm one of the sides closes down completely so you have to go either Bow or Stern to get anything depending on what partition was closed and sometimes it wasn’t even available. The other issue I seen was that the only place you were able to get Sodas was at a Bar or in a Bar / Lounge so this meant you had to find an open location somewhere on ship to get a refreshment. This meant that passengers under 21 and as low as 7 had to enter a Bar or Lounge to get a soda – Again I find this unacceptable.
During the evening you have the option of getting pizza at the Adult Pool Side lido deck – the pizza is sitting under heat lamps continuously all day so whatever doesn’t move during the day you can certainly bet was there at night waiting for a consumer. When we asked the crew member to make something fresh he advised us by saying “No – I don’t have any more dough” – with a smile of course. Also – keep in mind the Lido is the only anytime eating available and it has short windows for Breakfast – Lunch and Dinner – If you don’t make it to one of those – your pretty much SOL. Overall the Lido Deck restaurant is highly disorganized – with tasteless food and limited selection.
Holland’s mission statement includes this statement:
“Extensive activities and enrichment programs and compelling worldwide itineraries”
I happen to have all 6 Days of Itinerary for the cruise and it was an absolute joke. The cruise director Dave reminded me of a “has been radio show host – who used to sell old cars to sucker buyers with the ability to make a laughing hyena go mute” Sorry Dave but whenever I heard you, it sounded like you were trying to sell ice cream to the devil – NOW in all fairness to Dave if he is the one that makes up this itinerary then HAL might want to review these long before being scheduled. On the other hand if this is HALs Default Itinerary then I strongly suggest to Dave go to another cruise line Brother!
Here is a sneak peak of the itinerary and keep in mind the ones that include dollar signs – because these will cost you extra.
Morning Stretch – Abs Class – Indoor Cycling ($$) – 5 Minute make over – Christmas Quiz – Family Games – Art Auction ($$) – Body Sculpting ($) – Acupuncture – Bingo ($$) Shopping ($$) - Discover Windows 8 – History of Fabrege – Reinvent your Outlook Email – Spa Seminar – The New Docks in San Juan – Wine Sampling ($) – Christmas Songs – Lotto Drawing ($$) and my favorite Party Night Buy one Drink get one Free and in small print it says on SELECT BEVERAGES ONLY.
Yes this is one of the exact Itineraries from the ship. And trust me when I say it wasn’t any better the other 5 days. So HALS mission statement is in need of a major upgrade or in this case Downgrade.
I need to add that part of the entertainment on the ship was and is being conducted by Crew Members who may be working in other areas of the ship – We seen part of our dinner crew and shore excursion crew doing live entertainment – WHEN DO THESE PEOPLE GET TO REST? Thanks HAL for shelling out that extra $$ for on board Entertainment – I am not criticizing the crew – as a matter of fact I think it’s pretty disgusting that HAL has to over work these people to save a dollar.
No clue who he is – he never made an appearance as like other cruise lines we were on we always seen the captain mingling with the crowd. Now I wonder if we even had a captain on board, Interesting!
As aforementioned the crew is made up of 90% Asian – and there was little to no Asian crew members carrying any type of higher level management that we saw during our voyage, in fact we seen a lot of the crew doing double if not triple duty on board this ship, it’s obvious there is no work rule standards with HAL. Our cabin was well maintained even though we barely seen our room steward – So Overall the crew was polite and friendly but there were some occasions where you were penalized for asking for something to be cooked to order but overall nothing I would call a show stopper.
Keep in mind that you have to pay HAL $11.50 per day per Guest per Room – on top of that you pay 15% gratuity on every drink order no matter how small or large, I recommend you do not purchase Drink packages these are only good on board ship – so if you disembark on an Island owned by HAL your drink package card is not valid – so you are buying additional – I highly recommend you buy as you go.
On Board Shows Entertainment
Disaster – nothing worth even commenting on, every night was as so boring HAL couldn’t entertain a Doubt!
Our overall impression of the new flag ship from HAL doesn’t even rank Poor – It rates Unacceptable Unforgiving and Downright the Worst Ever. Never in our history of Vacationing and Cruising have we ever wanted a vacation to end – We were actually considering flying out of Puerto Rico. I would absolutely not recommend this ship for anyone who is used to great service and amenities like other large cruise lines have to offer. My first impression of this cruise line is that it is only for the senior cruisers and that's fine, I guess. Maybe we will return in 40 years.
Funny, while my wife and I were on deck one evening venting with the other passengers I started thinking HAL = Holland American Lines ….Hmmm I starting laughing and my wife asks what so funny – I replied “You know what HAL stands for babe? She waits for the punch line…..and I delivered – “HAL Stands for = Home At Last”!
This whole experience has given us no doubts that we will stay Loyal to Royal.