We sailed on the Nieuw Amsterdam Trans-Atlantic Cruise on October 27, 2011. We actually flew into Venice two days early to enjoy the city. We've been there twice before and really love it. We flew British Airways from Philadelphia International Airport via London. The connection in London wasn't as bad as I feared - you have to go through security before getting to your connecting flight. We reserved a room at the Hotel Bonvecchiati - they arranged for a private transfer from the airport to the hotel. So, as we exited the secure area at the Venice airport, there was someone waiting for us. The gentleman and his helper grabbed our luggage and took us to a van for a very short ride to the airport pier. There, we boarded a private taxi which took us (& luggage) directly to the back door of the hotel. The ride was very scenic, especially when we came down the Grand Canal passing under the Rialto Bridge.
Check-in at the Hotel Bonvecchiati was very quick. The gentleman from the Front Desk escorted us to our room. The room was a typical Venetian hotel room - very small but adequate. No great view but who spends their time in Venice looking out the window of their hotel? The bed was comfortable, there was plenty of hot water, and good water pressure. The hotel provided a free breakfast buffet that was awesome! It had everything you can imagine including made-to-order omelets. It rained both days we were in Venice but we toured nonetheless. We didn't get to do two things we had planned... 1) sit in San Marco Plaza in the evening listening to a band; 2) take a gondola ride - hopefully next time. The second day, the streets of Venice flooded making touring very interesting. We came across the Hard Rock Cafe the second day and stopped in for T-shirts and a couple of beers.
We arranged for a taxi to the ship with the hotel. On embarkation day, the hotel staff brought our luggage to the lobby where we met our taxi driver at 10:15 am. The taxi couldn't get to the hotel's private dock due to high tides. So, with the help of our taxi driver, we schlepped our luggage several blocks to the Grand Canal where our taxi was parked. The taxi ride to the ship was very enjoyable, sailing the Grand Canal and passing under the Rialto Bridge. Luckily, it was a warm, sunny day.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to the dock.
Upon arriving at the dock, porters took our luggage right off the taxi and loaded it onto carts bound for the ship. We walked to the terminal. They were already checking passengers in. We had Priority Check-In, so we got right in line (behind one other couple) and were checked in by 11:05 am. A sign indicated boarding would begin at 11:30 am and it did. We had Priority Boarding so we were on the ship at 11:40 am. The cabins were ready so we went right to our cabins on the Aft of the ship.
This was our first time on the Nieuw Amsterdam (NA) so it took us awhile to find our way around. It is laid out a lot like the Oosterdam which we've been on. The ship was very clean and staff were constantly cleaning it day and night. I liked the Ocean Lounge layout on the NA versus the Oosterdam. The Crow's Nest is one of my favorite lounges on all the HAL ships. I was a little disappointed that they moved the Library and the Exploration Cafe into some of the space normally used for the Crow's Nest. It made it harder to get a seat in there. They have some really comfortable recliners lining the front window of the Crow's Nest but it is almost impossible to find one available. People reserve them like deck chairs - they lay a book on it and maybe show up for awhile. In the Lido Pool area, they have Cabanas that they rent. Each one looks to be about 100 sq. ft. I don't know how much it costs and what time period they rent - the promo material in the cabana said to check with the Front Office. Throughout the cruise I only saw someone use a Cabana two times. Despite the space taken by the Cabanas, we rarely had a problem finding lounge chairs around the Lido Pool. There is plenty of outside deck space with plenty of lounge chairs but my favorite is the steamer chairs on the side decks (Promenade Deck). The side decks are very wide where the chairs are located and they have towels available on the side deck. All the other public rooms were pretty typical HAL - comfortably furnished, pleasantly decorated, and plenty of antiques.
Although service is always somewhat variable and each person's experience is driven by the specific staff they come in contact with, overall I believe HAL provides the best service in its class. Service on the NA was no exception (except the Pinnacle Grill). All of the HAL staff we came into contact with were friendly, courteous, helpful, and quick to serve. They actually anticipated our needs - we didn't have to look for them. We had Anytime Dining and had a different table every night. We experience the same great service at each table (in the MDR). The same was true in the Lido Restaurant where we ate breakfast and lunch. The staff were quick to clear/clean tables to make them available. As usual, the Lido was very crowded and finding a table can be challenging. But, the staff made every effort to make tables available. The one exception was the Pinnacle Grill. Upon arriving, we were forced to wait to be seated despite there being plenty available tables. Then, we were handed menus and the waiter disappeared. I had to flag someone down to get a Wine List. And there we sat for over 20 minutes - no one came. Finally, we went out to the guy at the front door to ask when we would be waited on. It took him a few minutes to find someone to send to our table. The attitude of the server was very haughty, almost like he thought we should be thankful that he was there to serve us. The servers there were not Indonesian (not sure why).
Everyone has their own tastes in food and opinions will differ. For me, the food on-board was some of the best that I've eaten on a cruise ship. I have taken over 50 cruises so I have a lot to compare. For breakfast, practically every main entree is made to order... eggs, omelets, waffles, pancakes. And each day, they had a different kind of breakfast potato. They even had an Eggs Benedict station - one of my favorites. At lunch, there were always a number of entrees to choose from and they were always hot and juicy - not dried out like a lot of cruise buffets. The Pasta Bar, which was open almost all afternoon, was incredible. I'm not a huge pasta fan but I couldn't help but eat pasta on this ship. They also had a Taco Bar every day and the Terrace Grill with a variety of grilled sandwiches. And, most of the day, there was always ice cream available (for free!). Food in the Main Dining Room was equally good. I usually ended up eating every course, Appetizer, Soup, Salad, Entree, and Dessert. I just couldn't pass it up. The menu varied every day. Though there was always seafood, beef, pork, pasta, and vegetarian entrees, they were always different. We ate at the Pinnacle Grill and the food there was good but not much better than the Main Dining Room. A few areas that need improvement: the Pizza and the "Before Dinner Munchies". The ship has this awesome pizza kitchen on the back deck but they can't make Pizza worth a darn. I think they use pre-made crusts like you buy in the grocery store. I never saw anyone tossing a pizza dough. In the lounges before dinner, they serve hot appetizers (usually they're hot). There are usually two or three different appetizers on the plate. Almost every day, one of the choices is a Pot-sticker or a Spring Roll. Both of these are horrible.
On this ship, they had Beverage Cards that were like gift cards. You could buy a $50 or $100 card for 10% off (i.e. $90 for a $100 gift card). We used them throughout the cruise. It seemed like many staff didn't know how to work the cash register when selling a new card and charging a drink order. Consequently, it would take them a long time to get the billing straightened out. We expected to see a lot of errors on our bar bill but I only found one error - when I got home. The purchases made with the card are not detailed on your bar bill. So, unless you keep all your receipts and track the balance of your card, you never know if you got your money's worth. In the evening, they have this "Happy Hour" where you get two of a certain drink for the price of the drink plus $1. It's a really good deal if you like to have a few drinks before dinner. The problem is that the Happy Hour is literally an hour but that "hour" occurs at a different time in each bar. So, it might be at 5 pm in the Ocean Bar; 6 pm at the Queens Lounge; and 7 pm at the Crow's Nest. This caused a migration of people from bar to bar. Whenever the Happy Hour was in session, the bar was packed. When it came to an end, the crowd would move on to the next bar having the Happy Hour. It was really a pain because it was hard to enjoy the entertainment in the lounge when this huge mob showed up for Happy Hour. They paid no attention to the entertainment and were so loud that you couldn't enjoy it.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - The old walled city is a must-see and do walk the walls if you are able. The ticket for the walls is 10 Euros. A taxi from the ship to the old city costs 10 Euros and you can fit 4 people in a taxi. It takes 10-15 minutes to get from the cruise port to the old city.
Corfu, Greece - It is possible to walk to town from the cruise port but it is a serious hike. There is a free shuttle from the ship to the terminal but you can easily walk it. There you can get a taxi into town for, yes you guessed it, 10 Euros. The taxi drops you off at Platia Georgiou II. The ship provided a great map of the old town. It a really nice place to walk around, shop. and maybe have a drink. You can also tour the Old Fort which is very scenic.
Messina, Italy - This stop was supposed to be Taormina but there was a road race in that town and many streets were closed. The ship would have had to tender passengers to shore which the Captain didn't like (takes too long). So, the Captain changed the stop to Messina - just down the road from Taormina. For some unknown reason, the Shore Excursion Office cancelled all shore excursions previously scheduled and asked passengers to re-book them if they still wanted to go. The original tours, in most cases, were still available. We had a tour of the Greek Theatre scheduled originally, They cancelled it and refunded the cost. We were pretty beat from all the touring in Venice, Dubrovnik, and Corfu so we didn't re-book - Their loss; our gain. We did walk around Messina for about an hour or so. There is a cathedral right near the docks that is pretty awesome. It has a clock tower that puts on quite a show at Noon. Leaving Messina, we got to sail past the Stromboli Volcano which is currently erupting - a pretty awesome sight.
Rome - Actually Civitavecchia. We booked the tour of the Vatican Museums (we had been to Rome before and already did the ruins). The bus ride from the port to Rome is two hours. Our tour was supposed to provide three hours of free time in Rome during the morning and then the tour of the Vatican Museums in the afternoon. In reality, we didn't arrive in Rome until 10:30 am and needed to meet the bus for the Vatican Museums at 12:30 pm - so we only had two hours. Rome was very crowded. We were there on October 31st, a Monday - our tour guide explained that November 1st was an Italian Holiday so a lot of Italians took the day off to make a long weekend. And, a lot of Italians travel on long weekends. We wanted to walk through the Roman Forum but the line to buy tickets was huge. Instead, we walked to Trevi Fountain, then to the Pantheon, and ended up eating lunch near Piazza Navona (where we were initially dropped and where we met to continue the tour). The lines at the Vatican were unbelievable! Being on a tour, we were able to get right in but were elbow to elbow with the crown. We had a special Vatican Guide to take us on the tour of the museums which lasted four and a half hours. Our special guide was able to get us into a lot of rooms that were not available to others. We saw a lot of amazing stuff but it did get boring at times (I don't normally tour museums when I travel). The museums were very crowded and we had to struggle to keep up with our tour guide. We had a half hour to shop in the stores near St. Peter's Square, leaving Rome at 6 pm. We were back on board at 7:15 pm - not sure how we made it so fast!
Cadiz, Spain - We didn't want to ride a bus for two hours to see Seville so we just walked around Cadiz. The old city is right by the pier - you just walk off the ship, exit the gate to the pier, and there you are. Cadiz is a pretty town and there are two forts (aka castles) that you can visit. We spent about three hours walking around, seeing the sights.
Funchal, Portugal - Because of rough seas, the Captain had to cancel this port. Then, there was a medical emergency that required immediate transfer of the passenger. The Captain headed back to Funchal and arrived there in the late afternoon of the day we were scheduled. But, he didn't dock. By this time another medical emergency occurred so a second passenger was dropped there - along with some entertainers who were supposed to get off in Funchal.
The Crossing - Days @ Sea
Our "fun" really began when we were en-route to Cadiz. The Captain warned everyone of bad weather and rough seas ahead. A day out of Cadiz we began experiencing the rain and the rough water. We sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar at Midnight. It was an awesome sight. It was very dark but the towns on both sides of the Strait were all lit up. There is only about 8 miles from Spain to Africa at the narrowest point. From the ship, it looked even less. I bet that is a real sight during the day.
Leaving Cadiz is when the ride began. The Captain indicated that we were experiencing 30 foot swells and 70 mph winds. After breakfast in the Lido, we sat and watched the waves - it was incredible! The waves were building just like you see at the beach. We saw one huge wave topped with white water continue to grow bigger and bigger as it approached the side of the ship we were sitting on. We had no idea of the impact it would have. It finally crashed into the starboard side of the ship and sent the ship rolling to the side. Everything on the tables in the Lido slid off onto the floor. We grabbed the few dishes left on our table; I grabbed my wife's chair which began sliding across the floor. Plates, cups, and glasses in the kitchen/buffet area slid off onto the floor. You could hear the glass breaking all around. The Captain changed course to nose into the waves and protect the side of the ship. The outside decks were all closed for days. Eventually the seas got a little calmer and we made our way to Funchal to deal with the medical emergency. I'm not sure if that emergency was related to the ship getting tossed around. Our cabin was apparently not designed for rough seas. The drawers at the bottom of the bed did not have a catch so they opened and closed all day and all night. It was dangerous, especially the first night, because, when we got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, we didn't expect to have the walkway blocked by an open drawer. The closet door also didn't have a catch so they opened and closed continuously. I have no problems with seasickness and I actually enjoy riding the rough seas. But my wife does get affected by really rough seas. Leaving Funchal, it wasn't bad that evening but we once again hit rough seas - not as bad as before. The outside decks were open but it was rainy and the ship rocked & rolled. The temperature during the crossing was around 70 degrees and it got a bit warmer as we neared Florida. The sea also got calmer for the last day of the crossing.
The entertainment on board was mediocre at best. We had the normal cast of characters... ships orchestra, ships show cast, impressionist, juggler, comedian, and singer. We also had an acrobat. The best of the bunch was the Nieuw Amsterdam Orchestra (aka the HAL Cats). They played for all of the musical shows and were awesome! A show would end and the orchestra would continue to play while the crowd left the lounge - many in the audience stayed to listen to every last second then gave a standing ovation. The HAL Cats played with a singer named Rachel. Rachel and the HAL Cats didn't play often and usually only played for one hour. Often times they were scheduled to play but never showed up. The show cast, consisting of four men and two women, did several productions but usually only a few at a time. The best production by far was "Cantare" performed by the four male vocalists. That received a standing ovation by all. The female vocalists were no match for their male counterparts. Each production show seemed to feature one or two male vocalists, one or both female vocalists, and one or two dancers. I would have liked to see more shows with the complete cast performing. I don't usually enjoy jugglers and impressionists. so it's not fair for me to say they were boring - others seemed to like them. The audiences loved the acrobatic couple - a young virile guy lifting up his pretty female companion. The skimpy costuming didn't hurt that show either. There was a three-piece jazz band playing in the Ocean Lounge. They looked like they were bored to tears doing their show. They certainly bored me to tears! The guy in the Piano Bar was not the best. He could really play the piano but couldn't sing well. He really enjoyed talking to the folks that sat around the piano. He loved to take requests despite the fact that he couldn't play them. That doesn't mean he didn't try. It was pure torture! One night, there was no show in the main lounge after dinner so we went to the Piano Bar. We had already stopped in late on several nights so we knew he wasn't the best - boy, we found out he was a lot worse than what we thought. The Crow's Nest had a Guitarist playing every night (but not usually late). His name is Matt Murphy. We had seen him play on the Veendam a year ago. He is very good and very entertaining. He passes out his song list so that people can request their favorites. The Adagio Strings sounded good whenever I heard them but I didn't spend a lot of time in the Explorer's Lounge. I thought that there could have been a lot more entertainment given the number of entertainers on board. I couldn't believe that one night after dinner the show in the main lounge was a movie.
The cabin was not well-lit. When you walk in the door, there are closets on the right and the bathroom on the left. There is one recessed light at the doorway. It is great for looking in that first closet but, because it is recessed, it doesn't provide light for the other closets. Most of the lighting in the cabin was recessed which made for a lot of shadows. The verandah was a nice size but there was no lounge chair. Instead, we had one nice chair and one small straight back chair. The beds were very comfortable, there was plenty of storage space, a nice sized tub and a great shower. We had a little trouble with the toilet running too much and overflowing but that got corrected in a day or two.