If you are new to cruising and have selected the Nieuw Amsterdam (NA) for your first cruise experience, you are about to set a vacation standard that will be hard to top. And if you are a seasoned cruiser, perhaps disenchanted with the cost-cutting incentives some of the lines have implemented, be prepared to have your expectations of a high end cruise experience restored.
We sailed on the 1/26 NA western Caribbean itinerary; Half Moon Cay, Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Key West. We have been on this itinerary several times before but decided to do it one more time to shake the winter blahs. We also selected some different tours for this sailing; but more on that later.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our departure and stayed one night at the Pelican Bay Resort. This hotel was one of the top choices (#11) on Trip Advisor. It was a nice enough property but seemed over-priced and undeserving of such a high rating. The room was small, cramped and nothing special. However the lobby bar is very nice and the outdoor restaurant offered a great Sunday brunch.
NA embarkation/room: we arrived at the port about noon and were onboard in about 15 minutes. We booked a SB Neptune Suite (#6060). Expedited embarkation is a nice suite perk and all rooms were cleaned and ready for occupancy about 12:30 PM. Our suite was absolutely lovely – spotlessly clean and very nicely furnished. The balcony was spacious, immaculate and proved to be a great retreat for reading, watching the ocean and munching on snacks or in-room dining. During the whole week, we enjoyed beautiful weather and a very tranquil existence in our stateroom and on our balcony. It was incredibly quiet and the balcony was smoke free (thank you neighbors!) with nothing but the fresh, never-breathed air of the ocean and the gentle motion of the sea for us to enjoy.
Ship: where to start? This vessel is absolutely beautiful. It is so clean, so fresh and so full of character that it will boggle your mind and dazzle your senses. There are countless venues for reading, relaxing, enjoying a drink, eating or, just feeling like you are truly experiencing something unique. The 2 and 3 dimensional art, the nostalgic photographs in the halls, even the elevator doors, along with so many other objects too numerous to mention on the ship will catch your eye and make you pause to simply admire them.– the ship is just gorgeous.
Finally, something very noticeable on NA is the abundance of elevators. Unlike most ships we have been on, the elevators were never really crowded and there is hardly ever a wait, even during peak times. I thought that this is a great design feature.
Food: OMG, there is so much to experience. The food on NA is by far the best of all the cruises we have been on since we started cruising back in 2001. The MDR dining is excellent; wonderful, delicious choices every night and superb service that reminded us of what a bye-gone era of dining aboard a luxury liner would have been like. Beautiful china, fine silverware and an elegant charm underscored every single meal in the MDR. Dining was truly memorable.
We are not buffet people; since unfortunately some passengers can spoil the experience with poor, inconsiderate manners. I won’t get into details but after some of the things we saw on this, as well as other cruises, eating from a buffet is not for us. However in the first 48 hours of the cruise, the staff will serve food and not allow passengers to handle utensils or serve themselves. It would be great if Holland America would permanently implement this process. But there are a lot of excellent choices in the Lido. On the first day in particular, they served fried chicken that was fantastic; we are glad it wasn’t available every day because we could not have resisted it, regardless of how it was served.
As a snack, the pizza at Slice was just OK but we thought that the hot dogs in the Terrace Grill by the pool were excellent. The Lido taco station was also very good but again, once passengers were allowed to serve themselves, that’s when it became unappetizing for us. We dined one night at Tamarind and just loved it! The food is wonderful, delicious and so nicely presented. The only problem for us is that there was just too much food and we felt almost obligated to eat all we could. Along with the food, the service in Tamarind is also wonderful.
Unfortunately one noticeable distraction at the Tamarind is the constant vibration motion of the ship. I read about this prior to sailing but couldn’t believe how very noticeable and annoying it really is. We switched our table to one towards the interior of the restaurant; this helped a little. I noticed that other diners did the same thing. The vibration seems to be the worst along the windows.
Finally – second formal night means lobster – and they were just so good. As I write this, I only wish I had one – so delicious!
Entertainment: we loved the group “Cantare” – a 4 man singing group performing on one night of the cruise. They also participate in (at least) one of the shows. They are wonderful performers who do great renditions of some classic songs.
We also enjoyed “Sarah and the Halcats”. She is a beautiful Brit with a lovely voice who performs in the lounges, as well as on Half Moon Cay. The band that accompanies her is also excellent. Another performer I loved was Krista; anyone from my generation may be reminded as I was of the wonderful singer from the 60’s/early 70’s – Melanie. Krista has a great voice and gives a terrific show.
Finally, we really (really) enjoyed the show “Garage Band.” It is an exciting, incredibly well choreographed show with energetic songs, dance and costumes.
Casino: we enjoy gambling and spending some time in the casino. The staff is well trained, courteous and very professional. Smoking is allowed in the casino and of course, we knew that when we booked our cruise; but it is still annoying if you dislike smoking as much as we do. The casino is small and not very well ventilated so we probably spent less time there than we normally would. The slots weren’t especially generous but we broke even after considerable play – which isn’t bad.
Staff: they are wonderful – friendly, engaged, cheerful. I cannot say enough good things about them. The bar staff was always attentive and there is never a wait for a drink – I especially liked the service in the Silk Den, Crow’s Nest and the Lido Bar. The latter venue has a great selection of beers.
Although I never met the stateroom attendants, our room was always perfectly cleaned. Really, I can honestly say I never even saw them in the halls – I am not sure how they even did their job so fast and unobtrusively. The Office staff on the first floor was always cheerful and there was never a wait for an associate. Finally, the staff in the Neptune Lounge were always very gracious, helpful and professional.
Fellow Passengers: While the average age seemed to be 60+, all age groups were represented and there was a great mix of friendly, outgoing people on this sailing.
Itinerary: Just a few brief comments on the ports. We visited Half Moon Cay once before and enjoyed it this time even more. Like before, the bar and the food service were both very good. And either we missed it or it was added since our first visit in 2009, but there is now a large replica of an old ship on the beach. There is a bar inside and Sarah and the Hal Cats perform; there are also a couple decks on top to sit and enjoy the day.
Cayman Islands – we went on the Atlantis submarine. This is an interesting experience but if you tend to be claustrophobic, this attraction isn’t for you.
Cozumel – this was our third visit and we did a ship sponsored tour of the Mayan ruins. It was interesting if you enjoy this type of thing; after the ruins, the tour stops at a small beach with a restaurant. A cold beer and some authentic guacamole and chips will really hit the spot when you’re taking in the gorgeous ocean. The tour is well organized. The ship docked at a new pier, which is literally right downtown.
Key West – the ship docked at the Navy pier but provided transportation to/from Mallory Square. We used the City View hop on/hop off open air trolley to navigate around town throughout the day. We had lunch at the Hot Tin Roof restaurant, which offered good (but pricey) lunch selections, along with a gorgeous water view.
Disembarkation: Suite passengers have priority disembarkation and for us this turned out to be fortuitous. We were allowed to leave the ship about 7:50 AM and we were at the airport in less than 30 minutes. This enabled us to get the last 2 seats on an earlier flight home (10:45 AM); our original flight was actually delayed until 6:30 AM the following morning due to weather issues. A lucky break for sure.
Finally, I was a little concerned that the Holland American quality may have slipped a little since our first cruise with them in 2009. All you read about lately is cost-cutting incentives that many cruise lines are implementing; Carnival Corporation seems to be leading the charge but they are all doing it at some level. But I give enormous credit to the Carnival Corporation for allowing this brand to continue to provide such an exceptional quality product. We have tried all the mainstream lines – Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, NCL and Celebrity - but Holland America, or at least the Nieuw Amsterdam, was the best experience we have had to date.
This cruise for us was just about perfect. If you are considering this ship, hopefully you will have the same wonderful experience that we did.