The charter I give 5 stars, the ship 3 stars.
It was a wonderful week on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise!
Review Nieuw Amsterdam Jan 19-26/14 Blues Cruise
It was a gorgeous day to embark on our 4th Legendary Rhythm & Blues cruise. The party starts at the embarkation area at the pier – lots of talking and laughing and everyone is geared up to go on board!
When we boarded, the crews were working hard getting the stage set up at the pool deck and pulling our several rows of chairs at the Showroom in order to put down the huge dance floor. The extras bars were being set up on the pool deck and showroom. Prep was soon underway to get the sail away BBQ started. Within a few hours the ship was transformed to party boat central!
Some of the lineup this year: Taj Mahal, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Curtis Salgado, Chris Cain, Debbie Davis, Otis Clay, Sista Monica Parker, Marquis Knox, Trampled Under Foot, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Southern Hospitality with JP Soars, Victor Wainwright and Damon Fowler. Denise LaSalle, Super Chikan, John Hammond, Ana Popovic and her big band, Eden Brent, Paddy Milner and Marcus Bonfanti, Tab Benoit, Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Theodis Ealey, Corey Ledet Zydeco, Selwyn Birchwood, James Hunter Six just to name a few. A stellar line up!
Right after the rowdy and raucous life boat drill we all headed up to the pool deck for the sail away party with the supremely talented Curtis Salgado. The bar staff (and any other member of the serving staff from all venues) were working flat out serving drinks. It was like a giant house party! There are a huge number of repeat offenders (70%? more?) and the rest were virgins ïŠ A good number of the staff and crew were repeat offenders and some had requested specifically to be working for this cruise. It seems we have a bit of a reputation as a fun and crazy bunch with the staff and crew.ïŠ
48 hour rule: didn’t exist on this cruise. The sail away BBQ had self-serve food. Salt and pepper grinders were in the cafeteria from day one. No noro on this cruise thank goodness. We are a pretty healthy bunch overall, I only heard of a couple of folks with head colds after the cruise.
The ports: St. Martin, with an excursion to Anguilla. 330 of us went by chartered ferry to Anguilla to Bankie Banx Preserve. The fabulous IBC winners Marquis Knox (2012) and Selwyn Birchwood (2013) played while we enjoyed the sun, sand and sea on this idyllic little Caribbean island. St. Thomas, Mitch Woods was playing at a small place not far from the docks, but we wanted a beach day. We went to the Ritz-Carlton Resort and hung out on the beach, had lunch and yummy cocktails. Grand Turk – Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials were set up at Margeritaville, steps from the ship. The beach isn’t great there, but the party with Lil Ed was great! We donned our fezzes and danced to the music. I don’t think the folks from the Carnival ship knew what hit them there. They thought they were the fun ship! They have nothin’ on us blues cruisers!
The ship: cleaner than last year, but could be better. The seriously stained carpets had been cleaned or replaced by the aft lido area. The stairs could still do with a good going over with the vacuum. I still don’t think they have enough crew to do the routine stuff around the ship.
The public washrooms, oh dear. Not good. So many washrooms were out of service at any given time. At one point, every woman’s washroom on the Lido deck was out of service. Every one. Upon checking out every washroom, finding them all out of service, there was another woman who made the same rounds. I told her we could hightail it down to my cabin on deck 8 and use the loo. So we sprinted down to my cabin. What a fun way to meet someone! We had a good laugh ïŠ. But the issue with the public washrooms being out of service happened everywhere on the ship. From the loos by the Tamarind to the loos by the showroom. The stalls had to be checked every time to see if it was usable. Some never seemed to get fixed the whole week.
The loungers by the Lido pool had been switched from the brown woven resin loungers to the metal/mesh loungers. They relocated the resin loungers to the forward upper deck. They looked really ratty. Since the pool deck is taken over with the stage and there is only chairs to sit on, it makes sense that the loungers were moved to the lido pool.
Some of the furniture is looking very tired and dirty. The worst were the white leather chairs in the crow’s nest. They need a good clean and some need repairing. Other couches and chairs need a good clean. Lots of stains on the soft furnishings.
The cabin: we were in 8157, same as last year. This year no plumbing issues – yay! Again, the carpets and soft furnishings are stained and worn looking. Time for some deep cleaning or replacements. Our cabin stewards, Made and Ketut worked their butts off this week. My friend and I gave them extra work to do one day ïŒ It involved Bloody Caesars on a wobbly tray. Don’t ask. Suffice to say, we tipped Made and Ketut quite a bit extra (each of us) for the mess. They thought it was funny! Canadians losing bloody Caesars is tragic! ;)
Crew and staff: everywhere to be seen. If you needed a senior officer of any sort – just hang out by the pool deck. There was often a sea of white shirts with epaulets with bars. The one tall, lanky officer (I don’t remember his name) has been on several blues cruises, he is a real fan. He has his favourite bands and makes a point to see them during the week. It is quite normal to see maintenance guys in the brown boiler suits, guys in blue uniforms (who are these guys? Anyone know?), all the spa girls, all the entertainment staff, the pinnacle grill folks in white jackets etc. at the various venues drinking and dancing in their off time. Apparently the entertainment staff was given the option of not staying on board for this cruise, but clearly they all stayed – and partied up a storm! A former ship’s doctor (he worked a few blues cruises) is now a several time repeat offender on da boat.
Smoking: there aren’t too many smokers on board. However – smoking rules are sadly not enforced on the pool deck. I had to ask one the organizers to tell a particular fellow not to smoke in front of the stage. It is very crowded and he has burned me in the past. He wasn’t sober, so I personally didn’t want to confront him. He was very mellow about moving, so it was ok. The sports bar by the casino reeked. The casino reeked, even though there were very few people gambling. The smoke drifts into the piano bar, so unfortunately I can’t spend a lot of time there. That is a shame, because great jams go on in there til the very wee hours of the morning. The last day Tab Benoit, Tasha Taylor and a few others were still singing and playing at 8am when the ship was in Fort Lauderdale.
Food: We ate in the MDR a couple of times, we normally never do, but we had friends with us and they wanted to try it. Well, I still don’t like the MDR. The menus were not great, the food wasn’t very good. Soggy Caesar salad. Lukewarm soup. Either chemically or mechanically tenderized meat- the always available strip loin tasted odd and had inconsistent colour throughout. Many other cruisers complained they thought the food was super salty. The sauces definitely were very salty. We went to the cafeteria for lunch a couple of times. Not good at all. Cold food. Always cold food ïŒ. The taco/nacho stuff was not only cold, but needed some spices. There was only one thing that was hot. Corn fritters. They just took them out of the deep fryer, they could be better with some jalapenos in them. The cook put them as the last thing at the end of the line, I don’t know what they should have accompanied. They just put them out randomly. I got one, and was so happy to get something hot, my hubby went back and got more. The lido guy gave him the evil eye. Probably because they were so popular he had to make more!
We went to the Tamarind – always great
We went to Pinnacle (only once this time, we usually eat there 3 or 4 times in the week) and were not happy with the new menu. It seems to be a big step down from the previous menu. No steak Diane, no table side Caesar salad, the substitute isn’t great. My steak was seriously overcooked for my liking, but from experience, I just used extra béarnaise sauce to make it edible. I didn’t want to send it back and not get my meal until everyone was finished. My hubby was not happy with his rib eye. We used to really enjoy dinner there. Sad that they have downgraded the meals at the Pinnacle. Our waiter Claudio was brand new to HAL, but clearly and experienced server. I don’t remember the other fellow’s name, but he was quite good. Claudio happily spoke French at our table and had a nice chat with us. He is a huge blues fan and was thrilled to see some of his favourite bands playing.
We went back to the Canaletto after giving it a miss for a couple of years. We thought we would give the new menu a shot. There is no way I would personally eat here with less than four people. I don’t eat fish/shellfish/pork and lamb. The menu is limited for me. My friend and I shared a salad, the ricotta pasta and the veal piccata. The lads had the pate, mussels, clam something, the sausage rigatoni and the chicken cacciatore. The meals were pretty good, a bit salty. We brought a bottle of our own wine, and our wine attendant (Marcy) forgot all about us. I had to call over the manager to ask him if we could order another bottle of wine, since we were ignored. Canaletto was not busy, so I don’t know what was going on. I would only go again with a group. If it was just hubby and I, we would have ordered completely different things and there would have been a lot of waste.
Pizza – horrible!!! So awful in fact, a whole pool deck full of people who are partying, hardly a soul will touch it. Now, that’s saying something.
Burgers – they only had a limited selection of stuff. No real hot dogs, only turkey dogs all week and other stuff they didn’t get. We did have a couple of burgers, but they are unseasoned meat, so kinda boring. The hamburger guy was very pleasant though!
Lunch time pinnacle and tamarind. We never go there are it is prime time for music.
***Some of you may remember there were some serious issues on my last blues cruise on the NA. A non-functioning toilet for most of the week. Bug bites at the Pinnacle. Finally, after ONE YEAR HAL responded to my complaint. I got a call from Bilal (I believe that was his name) from the front desk office. It was kind of an odd conversation. He apologized that no one responded about the issues on board last year. He implied that there were some real troubles with his predecessor and that there had been a “change” of management on board. Not like “the contract ended” kind of change, but some sort of major change. I can’t really think of the exact words, but from what he said I think there were lots of things not addressed and he knew there were unhappy customers out there. So goodness knows what else went on. Anyway….he was apologetic and offered us a dinner at the Tamarind and a bottle of wine. He also gave us an OBC. Certainly it was a nice gesture, but last year I wanted someone to make sure the toilet would work all the time and acknowledge the issue with the Pinnacle. And for goodness sake find out if the insects were in the linens or carpet and clean the darn place. I still can’t get over the fact it took a whole year to respond.***
Overall it was a fantastic week with fabulous musicians on board. It is a wonderful time to see so many folks that we know and partay ;) We have pre-booked the next two LRBC, October cruise from LA on the NCL Sun and next January back on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Our virgin friends will become repeat offenders next January as they had such a great time on this cruise :)