We were excited about taking our first cruise on Holland America Line because we had heard so many good things. Sadly we were a little underwhelmed. Our cruise was on the Nieuw Amsterdam. It was a nice clean ship and the staff was great, but we were expecting something a little more elegant and more enriching activities. We were also disappointed in the ride of the ship. Even though we were on calm seas the ship rocked from side-to-side continually throughout the cruise. Since the Nieuw Amsterdam was a newer ship we thought the ride would have been significantly smoother considering the seas. The Nieuw Amsterdam was nicer than the Carnival ships we had been on, but not as nice as the Royal Caribbean ships. The ship was sold-out, but it never felt crowded and we never had to wait in line more than a few minutes. Our verandah stateroom was nicely appointed and the bed was very comfortable. There was ample closet space and the adjustable shower head was a nice touch.
The food in the dining room was very well done and had a nice selection every night. The first night the temperature of the food was a little cold, but the rest of the cruise they seemed to have worked out the timing kinks.
The Tamarind was excellent and the staff was great. The Tamarind is a must when you have the chance and definitely worth the $15. Be sure to make reservations though.
The Culinary Arts Center was one of the main reasons we wanted to take a cruise on Holland America. From hollandamerica.com we were anticipating actual cooking demonstrations and classes in the CAC. This did not happen. We only attended a couple of events in the CAC. After the first 2 were so lame we didn't go back. One of the events seemed to have a little promise in the beginning, but failed in the end. The event was to have a chef from each of the specialty restaurants demonstrate a dish from their menu. Each chef brought everything pre-prepared and put the dishes together in the showroom while poking fun at each other's restaurants. They explained very little about their dish or what they were doing. The other event we went to was supposed to be an appetizer demonstration by the ship's "Party Planner". She too had everything pre-prepared and went through the process of using Oriental soup spoons to display shrimp cocktail. If you have watch the Food Channel more than a few times you will probably be disappointed in the CAC. Don't choose Holland America because of the CAC.
The spa area was very nice, but you are constantly bombarded with product sales pitches which made it really hard to relax and enjoy the environment.
We did attend several of the dance classes and had fun. The dancers from the show staff were the instructors and they did a great job. They made everyone feel comfortable and took the time to help people individually. The only complaint would be that the space in the Northern Lights area was a little small for the number of people that attended each class.
One thing that was enjoyable about the ship was the absence of blaring caribbean music in the pool areas and Lido restaurant like some of the other cruise lines use. The music throughout the ship was kept at a nice enjoyable volume even when there were deck activities.