We cruised on the Nieuw Amsterdam March 13-20th 2011 on a Western Caribbean route. A group of 4 brothers with wives/SO...a total of 8. We booked a VF Guarantee but were upgraded to category V on the Navigation deck.
This was the 13th cruise for my wife and me. Others had cruised anywhere from 0 to 6 times. We stayed at the Springhill Suites Dania Beach. Free parking, transport to the port and pick up for $8pp.
My wife and I had been on one other HAL cruise...the Zuiderdam in 2005. The Nieuw Amsterdam, even though on the same hull, seemed larger than the Z and was definitely a much prettier ship. We cruised the Celebrity Solstice last year and the Nieuw Amsterdam compared very favorably to it. It does not have the large atrium like the Solstice and other newer ships.
Arrived at the port around 11:00AM. On the ship before noon. One great thing HAL has done is to have cabins ready by 11:30. We were able to go the cabin upon boarding and drop carry-ons. It also seemed to spread the crowd around the ship rather than everyone gathering in the LIDO.
CABIN: Category V on the port side Navigation Deck. It was great to be able to open 4 balconies and have a huge space. Cabin was designed well...nothing flashy but very comfortable and lots of storage. Bath was one of the larger ones we have had with a tub.
CREW: The cruise director was Gene Young. I have to admit I don't remember many of our cruise directors an hour after leaving the ship and he was no different. Did not really add or detract from the cruise. Crew was friendly and efficient for the most part. Cabin Steward Diding did a great job even though we did not see him often.
LIDO: The lido food was always good but I like the layout of the Solstice buffet much better. Seemed to be more congestion on the NA. And one of brothers also complained that he could never get anyone in the morning to fill his coffee. One thing we noticed...we always had coffee after dinner and found it odd that they NEVER offered a refill, even in Pinnacle or Tamarind. I did notice after returning to the ship after 3:00 there was not a lot of food and we were always hungry when returning from shore.
MDR: Ate there 3 times with anytime dining. Food was very good each time but I agree the service was not as friendly as past cruises and sometimes slow. I just assumed it was because this was the first time we had experienced anytime dining and the wait staff does not get "invested" in you as much or get to know you. Not bad service, just a little detached. The NY Strip served every evening was a really nice cut of beef.
TAMARIND: We felt it was the highlight of the dinners. So good we booked a second night. Service excellent as was the food. The only problem we had was trying to decide what to order. We tried to get in for lunch without reservations one day but there was a waiting list so we left. Everything we had was delicious. They also brought us a large platter of sushi for the table in addition to the meals.
PINNACLE: While the food was very good, service was slow. I just can't understand why it takes almost 4 hours to complete a meal. We had 6:00 reservations and got out a little before 10pm. Other tables that arrived after our party were finished long before us.
CANALETTO: We ate there the first night. The food was good, nothing special, but it was free and something different. Service was okay and we did get cotton candy.
ENTERTAINMENT: We had a change in much of the cast at the beginning of the cruise. Cantare was one of the best shows we have ever seen on our 13 cruises. Go to this one! Rondell Sheridan was the comedian and we all recognized him from TV. Very funny. Just saw a short sample of the magician and he was amazing. Other stage shows were pretty good but the one exception was "The Two fo Us". This was a married couple who are part of the ensemble and had their own show. While the singing was excellent, the banter between songs was so corny and cheesy it ruined the show. Several in our party walked out. Matt Murphy played guitar and sang in Crows Nest...good and very nice guy. Gini and HAL Cats seemed to play everywhere around the ship, the pool, and on Half Moon Cay. Musically they were good but they really need a male voice to assist with vocals. But the band leader told us this was the same on every HAL ship...a band with only female singer.
We enjoyed the Piano Bar mainly because of "Boozie" the waiter. You have got to meet this guy. All 8 of us met him one night and he remembered our names the rest of the cruise. David Seering (sp?) played and sang but was a little over the top...think Liberace without the glitter.
Adagio Strings were good but selections seemed to be designed for bedtime. They played a great "RiverDance" type of number for the variety show one evening and we expected more of this but they seemed to stick just to the classics. The Jazz Trio called The Neptunes were also good but it seemed everytime we sat down to listen they took a break.
It did seem that after the late show there were not many entertainment choices but we were never bored!!
THE SHIP: We really liked the Nieuw Amsterdam and as mentioned previously it was so much prettier and more elegant than our last HAL cruise on the Zuiderdam. It is indeed a beautiful ship. There are some dead ends where you "can't get there from here" but that is the case on most ships. I know some have complained about the red in the MDR but we loved it, especially when compared to the stark white in the Solstice MDR. The NA is not as open with a large atrium like the Solstice but after a while we came to like it as well. On a sea afternoon there is no place better than lounging on the promenade deck. Kudos to HAL for keeping the wrap around on all of their ships.
The Queens Lounge is a beautiful spot as are most of the numerous lounges. The one place we found that was really ugly in our opinion was the casino. Very dark and not colorful and very uninviting. Maybe it was just all the smoke (oh oh...I don't want to start THAT debate).
MISC: If you like to hang around the pool be sure to bring some type of shoe to wear around the pool deck. You will get the bottoms of your feet burned within seconds by just going from the pool back to your lounger. Not sure why they did not use some sort of heat reflecting material or teak for the decking.
The lido pool area also seemed really closed in when compared with the Solstice. Part of it comes from the fact they have the magrodome which can cover the pool. It is nice to have but does really cut into the deck space on the deck above the pool. One brother rented a Lido cabana for the week and really enjoyed it. Had a butler with great service, champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and more. They felt it was well worth the $199 for the week. The Resort Cabana's were more private and up higher but cost $299.
VERDICT: Book this ship. We had a great time. I think the NA and the Solstice are very comparable. There are some things we liked better on the Solstice and some we liked better on the Nieuw Amsterdam. But if you go on a cruise looking to find something to complain about you will. If you don't have a good time on the NA, or for that matter any cruise, it is your own fault!!