Though the following review is 6 months late, the fact that the ship is back in the Mediterranean for its second season makes it hopefully pertinent.
Our first time cruising at sea was the 32 day b2b TA Venice to Florida on the Nieuw Amsterdam in October 2010- an excellent choice on all fronts, i.e. cruise line,ship, location, and weather. We learned the hard way to be careful about the expressions "first cruise / first time cruising".Proud of this new adventure, we heartily raised our hands when the diners at the Mariners Luncheon (remember b2b) were asked who was on their first cruise. Those who did raise their hands were called "party crashers"by the CD.Ouch!
Preparation for this grand adventure included many hours on CC sourcing tips, reviews,etc.which for the most part proved helpful..
Embarkation in Venice was relatively smooth and as our inside J cabin near the aft elevators wasn't quite ready, we retired to the Lido restaurant for some lunch and a glass of wine. Our room was sufficiently spacious though our over-packed 4 suitcases caused some restrictions. Live and learn on the luggage front.
Crew and Staff - fantastic positive approach to pax. Stewards and assistants really deserved an end-of-cruise tip over and above the daily general charge.
As this was our first time cruising, we had nothing to compare the NA with but found it spacious and rather impressive particularly with the New York theme which we are familiar with from previous land travels.It takes a while to get used to the layout but it helps if one examines the ship decks online in advance.
Lower Atrium- Front desk where the friendly get-to-know-you staff is knowledgeable on all things pertaining to your stay. Excursion desk where I found the staff, when on-duty, less friendly (glad I did the non prearranged tours using 3rd(?) level keyboard).
We are not fussy diners but we do appreciate good food and service. There was an abundance of both on the NA.
The Lido- was the mainstay which was the goto when other dining rooms were unavailable. Generally went there for breakfast and lunch. If a late tour set meal schedules back or if you needed a late snack, a substantial fare is available in the Lido at 11pm. Had no problem at all with the variety of offerings or quality.
The Manhattan Dining Room- was our designated "open dining" room with superb service and menus. It took several days before we got up-to-speed in using the services of this place, but we took advantage of shared accomodation at all dinners and some breakfasts as well as afternoon tea at 3 . On all occasions, we were introduced to many interesting diners. Service was always no problem in the MDR except on "at sea" days when there were no excursions and the volume of patrons at tea increased significantly.The layout and decor was impressive, the dining room conversations at bit noisy, and the air conditioning a bit cool in the inner step-up portion of the 2nd level MDR. We always looked forward to coming back to this place.
We did not avail ourselves of the Pinnacle Grill, Silk Den, Explorations Cafe,or Canaletto. Yes, but we did experience the Pan Asian Tamarind and it was just great...no, super! We hadn't experienced such an interesting series of courses, teas, and service, as here.
Just a note re the code orange and the fact that the dining staff in the Lido had to do all serving and distribution of items. As the Tamarind was not open during the breakfast time-frame, its staff was seconded to the Lido to assist with coffee serving and we were surprised when one of the Tamarind servers greeted us by name a few days after our visit there.
We drink socially and rather minimally so did not frequent any of the several bars each of which had their own character.
The Showroom at the bow of the ship is beautiful and was used for various activities including bingo, church services , movies, lectures,and of course evening shows. We did not take in very many of the shows but were impressed with most of what we saw particularly the enthusiasm of the ships singers and especially the dancers.We enjoyed a couple of the stage productions, e.g NYC, also an English comedian, and particularly a singer/impressionist named Robinson (sorry forgot 1st name).Apparently a juggler/comedian named Barnaby was a hit on this ship as well as Cantare.
Hit Bingo almost every-time offered but won zilch.
We took in a couple of cooking demonstrations ; didn't participate in the dance instruction classes. We did however dance to the Jimmy Maddox trio and Jen and the Hal Cats.
Speaking of not winning at bingo, we were up and down in the wins and losses at the Casino as we cut our way through the cigarette smoke. One of the few areas on the ship where it was permitted internally, the smokers seemed in general to have a "because I can" attitude. Also, patrons of the Showroom had to run the smoke gauntlet to get to and from their destination.
Used gym equipment on one occasion (though more warranted). Sat in on a free interesting presentation on toxicity in the human diet and environment. However, we went further afterward and had a not free health assessment using a machine with electrodes providing a printout on various readings.Found some of the findings questionable and particularly that a product was being recommended on an ongoing subscription basis. Paid bill and never went back. Please note that I understand the gym, casino, and Signatures shop are run by outside interests not HAL though I may stand to be corrected.
Ship-sponsored photos were taken upon embarkation, during Formal Dining Nights, and during some port dis-embarkations,etc. A cruise video dvd with highlights from various excursions was an ongoing project.Having heeded one CC'ers warning of annoying photographers, I refused when my wife mentioned someone wanted us to turn around for a picture. Turns out it was the cruise videographer and so we missed our chance to be included in the Venice departure scenes; did make it briefly in the Santorini trip.
We purchased a set of MDR photos of ourselves as well as cruise and Mediterranean highlites dvd's. All reasonable.
Didn't avail ourselves of the library though many did. The pay for time used computer usage hurt, not only for the $30 for the half hour e-mail composition, but
that we found out 2 weeks later that our intended recipients didn't receive anything. Once located, onshore telephone and e-mail each cost less than 2 euros for about 20 minutes usage.
This is the biggest and most interesting aspect of cruising. It does, however, require alot of thought particularly for "newbies". First of all, determine a philosophy regarding excursions. This sounds rather simplistic but is necessary. Participants should determine what is important to them,i.e. what locales are important to me and why. Do I approach cities and sites from a historical viewpoint or by popularity? How much do I think an excursion is worth versus what I am willing to pay? Do we like to "self direct" our excursions? Are we "intimidated" by the warning that if your "on your own" excursion is delayed for whatever reason, you're "on your own" as the ship won't wait.
Though we visited several Italian ports, we didn't do Italy quite the justice it deserved so it awaits a further visit.Note to self...arrive in departure city at least 1 day early to cover jet lag and do some touring.
Favourite locales for us included Monaco, Barcelona,Cartagena,and Granada.The Greek island of Thira (Santorini) is a "must-see" as well as Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
These 32 days resulted in us putting a deposit on a future yet to be selected HAL cruise. With all the friendly staff attention, interesting fellow travellers,great locations, fantastic food,and R&R prompted my wife to say, upon departing the ship, "we went to heaven" and I agree.