We cruised on the Nieuw Amsterdam departing on Nov. 27th 2011 from Port Everglades. on the Eastern Caribbean itinerary. Our party consisted of 3 couples, my wife and I, from Helena AL my sister and BIL from Portland, OR and our good friends from Houston TX. Our Houston friends had a SA Suite and my sister and I had VA verandah cabins all on the 7th deck. We all had AYWD and the ship was 100% sold out and operating at capacity.
Saturday Nov, 26th
We arrived in Port Everglades Saturday after noon with our friends and checked into the Hyatt Pier 66 overlooking the cruise port. We were surprised to find out for some unknown reason the National Sales Manger for Hyatt had our rooms upgraded from our booked older Marina rooms to 14th floor full ocean view Tower rooms. This was a great way to start our cruise. We had a very nice dinner at the Bimini Seafood Restaurant on 17th just down the street from the Hyatt.
Sunday, Nov. 27th
Sunday embarkation was a breeze considering a record number of passengers that were departing that weekend. We had pre booked online a parking spot at the Park and Ride lot outside the Port entrance for $5.99 a day. We pulled into the lot at 11:00am and unloaded out luggage and boarded the shuttle bus. Our car was valet parked at no extra charge. We got to the ship at 11:30 and thanks to our friends in the SA suite we got to express Suite check in with them and were on the ship and in our cabin by noon. From the parking to the check in this was easier than I thought it would be and the easiest embarkation of any prior cruises.
My sister and BIL drove in from Tampa and we decided to wait for them to have lunch at the Mariners Embarkation lunch in the MDR. They were running late so we didn't get to the MDR until 1:05 and were told the lunch was closed at 1pm even though it has been posted that the Mariners embarkation lunch lasts from Noon to 1:30pm. We were not happy about this and had to eat in the Lido. Why have special embarkation lunches for Mariners open for only one hour?
We all went to dinner in the MDR at 6:45 (no reservations) and got seated to a table for 6 immediately and the open DR was only about half full. I had the Prime Rib and it was cooked perfectly and was very good. The new mystery sauce on the Prime Rib was a tomato base reduction sauce and was OK, but I asked for Aus Juice and was told it was not available which seemed odd. Service was fast, excellent and impressive for open dinning.
Monday Nov. 28th Day at Sea
Started with breakfast room service for the 8-8:30 time and it was delivered promptly at 8:00 am hot and exactly as ordered. We spent the day touring the NA and I have to say it is an impressive ship but already is showing signs of wear and tear in the public areas.
That night was formal night and we had 7pm reservations at the Pinnacle Grill for all 6 of us. I have to say we were all not impressed with the food and service that night. I had the Steak Dianne and it was served with very little sauce and had no flavor. There was no rack of lamb on the menu as in past HAL cruises, they had 3 Colorado grilled lamb chops instead with no sauce and my wife was not impressed at all. We were also disappointed that the menu was the same every night so we cancelled our Friday night reservations.
Tuesday Nov. 29th Grand Turk Island
Room service breakfast again delivered on time, hot and as ordered. Grand Turk is a very small and undeveloped island that is still recovering from a major hurricane in 2008. We took a cab into town and wasted our time and money as the capital town is so undeveloped that no business takes credit cards or has internet. The best shopping is at the nice cruise terminal. The free beach club at the terminal has a very nice white sand beach with good snorkeling and a reasonable priced bar. An alternative is the Margaretville beach club on the other side of the pier that several other passengers said was expensive for food and drinks.
We had a good lunch in the Lido after swimming at the beach. We all had dinner that night in the MDR and walked right into the MDR at 7pm with no waiting for a table for 6. Again this was another disappointing meal with poor food choices that were described much better than they tasted or were prepared.
Wednesday Nov 30th San Juan PR
Once again a great room service breakfast served on time and hot. We docked at 1pm and met up with some other CC members for a horse drawn carriage ride we had booked ourselves through old town SJ. We all had a great time and then walked around town so our wives could do some shopping. Our friends decided to take a cab to tour El Moro fort and found it very interesting.
That night we all had MDR room service in our friend's suite for dinner and enjoyed the night sail away from the Port of San Juan. The veal parmesan I had was tough and had very little sauce and a dab of cheeses and not as good as an average Italian restaurant like Olive Garden, just another MDR disappointment.
Thursday Dec 1 San Maarten
Started out with another good room service breakfast, that was perfect. We then proceeded to our shore excursion on the Rhino Inflatable boats which turned out to be a highlight of the cruise as we all had great time, and got sunburned as well. We did some shopping as we found this delightful island to be the best shopping of the cruise.
Dinner that night was in the MDR and we walked right in at 7:00pm with no waiting. My wife and I had the veal chop with porcini mushroom sauce and found the veal to be tough and chewy again another MDR disappointment.
Friday Dec 2 Sea Day
We decided to eat light in the lido as lunch today was the Mariners Champagne Luncheon. The lunch was a hit and so far the best meal we had in the MDR. My wife and I enjoyed a perfect Beef Wellington. I found it curious that one of our best meals was in the Mariners' lunch. We talked to another Mariner couple at our table who agreed with us that the food was sub par compared to prior HAL cruises but they did say it was better than Princess.
This was our second formal night and we walked right in to the MDR at 7:30pm and the food was the best of the week. My wife had the Pompano fish and it was very good. I had the surf and turf and the fillet was tender and cooked perfect. The surprise was my Lobster tail was large and not over cooked and the best one I have had on any cruise ship.
Saturday Dec 3 Half Moon Cay was a no go so ended up with day at sea.
We arrived at HMC to 40knt plus winds which made it too dangerous to tender so we spent the day cruising at sea. My sister and I tried to get into the movie theater at 1pm and the chair hogs were at it again. The theater seats about 30 people and there were several people in there an hour before the movie started holding at least 6 seats each. The theater is posted no holding seats but when I called guess relations to complain they said they could do nothing. The size of the theater is grossly undersized for a ship with 2000 passengers.
We decided to try the Tamarind on our last night and it finished off our cruise in a positive. This was the absolutely best meal on this cruise and was as good as any upscale Pacific Rim restaurant on land. The food was fresh and well presented and the service was impeccable. IMO do not waste your money on the Pinnacle Grill and eat here as many times as you can. We talked with another couple that night who cancelled their 2 PG reservations and dined in the Tamarind 4 nights. I wish we had had lunch here at least once.
Sunday Dec 4 Debarkation in FLL
We arrived in Port Everglades at 7am and were cleared by customs by 7:30. We had the 8:30 time slot for debarkation and got called early at 8:15 and we were off the ship at 8:30. The Park and Go shuttle was waiting for us and we were in our car and leaving their parking lot by 8:50am. HAL does a great job on both embarkation and debarkation.
I can not say enough about how impressed I was with Park and Go at FLL for parking. They dropped us off at our car and loaded our luggage into our car. Total parking cost for 7 day was only $51 and they gave us each a free bottle of water after we paid for the parking.
Over all evaluations
The service everywhere on the NA was up to HAL standards and we have no complaints. Our room steward did a great job and took care of all of our needs. Even though the ship was sold out we never saw long lines or any over crowding in the public areas. Our room service breakfasts were all on time, hot and exactly as ordered. Our only complaint was the holding of seats in the undersized movie theater and the staff's refusal to stop the chair hogs as noted above.
The entertainment was very good overall. The comedian Mike Robinson was a fantastic ventriloquist and had the whole audience laughing for almost an hour. He was the best comedian I have seen appear on any cruise. The ships singers and dancers put on 2 good shows during the week as well.
AYWD was a great option for us. We did not bother to make reservation any night and did not have to wait for a table for 6 between 6:45 and 7:30pm our desired dining time. The service was spotless and fast every night. I think after having AYWD now for several years HAL has the concept perfected and we will continue to choose this option in the future.
Our biggest complaints have to be with the quality of the evening meals in both the MDR and the Pinnacle Grill and show evidence that HAL is cutting corners the most here. The Lido breakfast and lunches were as good as past HAL cruises and very good. Overall the food in the MDR would be IMO a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. I was disappointed that we didn't see entrees like lamb shanks, Osso Bucco, good tender veal chops and Beef Wellington like in our past HAL cruises. Many of the appetizers were also not up to par with past HAL cruises, like the lamb skewers made from ground lamb. One area that needs major improvement are the sauces that they use on foods as most were skimpy and tasteless. The veal parmesan and marinated port loin were prime examples of bad or skimpy sauces. Not changing the PG menu during the week was also disappointing and not having Rack of Lamb, one of our favorite past HAL dishes, was really upsetting. Last year on the Celebrity Century we had a rack of lamb in their upscale restaurant that was fantastic. In our whole party's estimation the PG was no better than the MDR and not worth the $25 up charge or on par any more with Celebrity.