Overall - We had a very relaxing and enjoyable time on this very classy ship. We expected a cruise full of those 50+ and were pleasantly surprised by the number of young people (20s and 30s) on board. Also, it's worth noting for younger people considering HA, that even though the average age is higher, many HA cruisers are experienced travelers and we really enjoyed talking with them (including some in their 90s!) With scarce nightlife and less than active activities, you have do make your own fun. But with good happy hours and events like the pub crawl, fun can be found! Be sure to try trivia and bingo, kind of family activities, but they can get competitive.
Since it was Christmas there were more families and the children were occasionally unruly, but generally they were not a bother and seemed to be occupied by the Club HAL staff. The lack of nightlife and more exciting activities was good for us on our honeymoon - it forced us to relax and take it easy. Next time, we will probably go with Princess or Royal Caribbean, but if you're looking for a very laid back, classy ship and crew, the Nieuw Amsterdam is a great fit. It was what we expected and a very enjoyable experience.
Airport Transfer - We reserved the Holland America airport transfer from Ft. Lauderdale. Basically a coach bus, nothing special. At $17 per person, a cab might be cheaper as the port is within a few miles of the airport. But it was convenient to just step on a bus and relax.
Embarkation - Fast. We were in our stateroom within 15-20 minutes. No complaints. The longest line was for the stupid picture they took of you.
The Ship - Very manageable layout, however, the maps and info provided fail to accurately layout the ship. Nothing informed us that the gym was in the Greenhouse Spa! It was absolutely beautiful for Christmas, with decorations everywhere! The boat was very nice, with a classic feel to it. Some of the decorations were artificial feeling, but generally it was a nice, romantic boat and reminded us of scenes from the pre-glacier Titanic.
Some commented on the rocking of the boat. There were a few nights where it did rock and it was difficult to walk in a straight line, but we were on deck 11 and did not find it overwhelming.
Verandah Spa Stateroom (deck 11) - We opted for a Verandah, which we absolutely loved! We did not book a specific stateroom and, as a result, we received one of the "spa rooms." These spa rooms were nice with complimentary Vitamin and Voss water as well as some spa treatments and a trickling water plug-in the wall appliance. It was a nice free upgrade for us, but certainly not worth the extra cost if you paid the full price for that specific room. We were next to the Cafe and Bar on Deck 11, which were both very nice and good places to spend the day and night.
Cruise Info - Being first time cruisers, we were out of the loop the first couple of days. The ship was very manageable to explore, but the information provided was scarce. In fact, we didn't realize the Manhattan Dining Room was the main dining room until our third day! We didn't know there was a gym until the fourth or fifth day. There was no handbook or guidebook to all the ship offers. When we asked, of course, the crew was always willing to help.
Dining - We enjoyed the Italian restaurant and the main dining room. We were "open seating." You could make reservations and be guaranteed a seating at a certain time, share a table with others, or just show up and wait for a few minutes. We did all three and have no complaints. The food was excellent. We never tried the Pinnacle or the Asian restaurant because we were pleased with all the dining options.
The Lido restaurant was not as well managed. There was hardly ever a clean table with silverware available. The staff was not as friendly and the food not as good. But it was a buffet, so I guess that's all to be expected.
In Room Dining - HA offers complimentary in room dining with a complete menu from salmon to cookies and milk. Very nice concept, poorly operated the first few days. We could not get through the first two days as the line rang busy!!! We simply wanted to order a bottle of liquor for our room (and pay for it.) Eventually the novelty must have worn off and we were able to get through. Bottom line, enjoy it if you can, but don't expect it.
Alcohol - I mention this, because HA has some decent deals for you to enjoy a drink and not experience a shock when you get your bill at the end of the cruise. Liquor bottle/mixer service (part of in room dining) is a great deal, with a 1 Liter bottle of Bacardi and 3 cans of coke being $36, vodka/gin and tonic being $32. This is especially good when a can of coke is $2 itself! Also, there are happy hours where drinks are 2 for 1 throughout the ship at various times listed each day in the itinerary. "Double fisting" (ordering two drinks for yourself) is encouraged! They also offer a "drink of the day" special for a dollar off. Finally, the pub crawl. For $20, you receive 4 drinks at various bars, with college-type games along the way. It was a blast!
Beverage cards are another way to save. For $45, you receive a card worth $50 of alcoholic beverages. A similar card is available for soda drinks.
One negative aspect of alcohol service on HA, the bartenders are not very skilled. Most "mixed drinks" contained too much mixer and were overpoweringly sweet (even for my wife that loves fuzzy navels, amaretto sours, etc.) They were OK during the pub crawl, but that was because the head bartender was with us! Stick to simple drinks like rum and coke, gin and tonic, or just beer/wine.
Entertainment - On par with a college drama department's productions. They try hard to appeal to all audiences, and succeed to some degree. We found ourselves attending because it was the only thing to do after dinner. The comedian was funny, the singers/dancers try hard. Overall not bad, but don't expect Broadway.
Nightlife - The ship is truly a ghost town after 10 (except the casino). Even with more young travelers over the holidays, you have to create your own fun at night.
Destinations - We traveled to Half Moon Cay, Curacao, Bonaire. Half Moon Cay was what we expected, tender to the HA-owned island for a beautiful beach and lots of fun excursions. The weather was a little cool in December, on par with south Florida. The latter two islands though were plenty warm, averaging the 80s.
Holiday Celebrations - I was very pleased with all the decorations in celebration of Christmas and the holidays. The ship was beautiful. The crew also put on a Christmas Eve celebration and religious services were also held. We were served a complimentary glass of champagne on Christmas. Very classy and very festive.
Cleanliness - The ship was very clean and excellent sanitation measures seemed to be in place.