We sailed the Niew Amsterdam in mid December 2011. Overall, our vacation was fantastic. In my review, I'll try my best to explain what I liked and didn't like, but keep in mind the type of person / cruiser I am.
About me: 34 years old, married and on cruises I like to spend time doing very active things, and time just relaxing. I'm a non-drinker and I'm not into the party scene.
This was our 4th cruise (previous cruises with Carnival and defunct Premier Cruise Lines) and we chose Holland America as we wanted to try something different than Carnival, and the itinerary gave us 4 great stops when most other 7 day cruises from Florida offered only 3. We also wanted to give the Eastern Caribbean a try as we have not been there yet.
I loved the design of the ship. It was new, classy and I found it easy to navigate. We spent lots of time around the lido pool and it was nice to have the roof when the rain or winds became a problem. Although you have to get to the lido pool early to get one of the comfy chairs around the pool, there are always chairs available on this ship. I once went up to one of the higher decks, and it was like field of chairs, so don't worry about that being an issue.
I thought the Lido restaurant was very classy looking with nice chairs, tables etc. This is one of the big differences from Carnival. We had an ocean view stateroom and we were very impressed with it. Large, comfy and modern. There is a TV with a dvd player and dvd's can be borrowed from the front desk (koodoos to HAL for offering free DVD's I mean, why not!)
As stated in other reviews, the Niew Amsterdam is a classic HAL ship, so you wont find waterslides etc. I agree with other reviews that the Lido Resteraunt is the most crowded place on the ship, but its not a big deal.
I thought the Lido food was better than expected and the Main Dining room was as expected, or perhaps slightly below. Pizza was OK, and the burgers were decent enough. They will bring you a full breakfast to your room, we found this nice on port days when we wanted to eat in our room and get off the ship in a hurry. In the main dinning room, we usually got a table for 2 with no wait. I was impressed by this. One night there was a 20 min wait for a table for two, so we sat with other folks and we enjoyed that. I gained 7 pounds, so I can testify that the food is good and plentiful.
I tried to participate in the more active activities on the ship, and there are not many. I went to play pool volleyball, it was set up, but nobody was in the pool. I wish the staff would have people sign up, or encourage others to participate as there could have been others who wanted to play, be who wants to jump in and hold a volleyball by themselves in front of a hundred people if no one is going to follow you?
I went to the free throw competitions and it was fun. Some pick up B-ball games were held and it was great to burn some calories and meet some other younger (mid 30's is young on this ship) people.
Culinary Arts Centre:
Not what you think it will be. It is not like a cooking show with a Chef demonstrating their masterpiece. Expect the ship entertainment staff / cruise director following a recipe and making jokes the whole way. Just silly amateur stuff, Whooptie doo.
Loved it! We loved being able to watch a movie each day before dinner. They even set out popcorn. It is true that seats are limited so get there about 10 Min early.
There are plenty of activities for older folks, not my cup of tea to play cards and bingo all day, but if that's your thing, you will like it.
Show Room Entertainment: I didn't like it, my wife loved every second of it. They did have a juggler comedian one night and he was awesome.
Ports- (This is a big reason I picked this cruise)
Grand Turk -- Freeking awesome. Snorkeling tour was awesome and the beach / swimming area looks like someone's screensaver at work. I was pumped for this stop as there is a Flowrider here. I prepaid for this with HAL I was informed the night before that my tour was cancelled because I was the only one who signed up. I was devastated. If you are like my wife, you think I'm ridiculous being so upset over this, but once you ride a flowrider, you are hooked and I live 400 miles from the closest one. The next day I actually went to the flowrider people on shore and we got them to turn it on for us. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just google it.
San Juan -- We toured El Morro (on our own) and it was neat. It was also nice to walk around old San Juan. We enjoyed this day, but it was our least favourite stop.
St. Maarten -- Awesome day at the beach, absolutely loved it. Very easy to get transportation at the pier with no haggle rates. I wish it stayed there a few hours longer as we were loving it so much.
Half Moon Cay -- Loved It! We did the horse ride, the land part was lame, but the water part was very fun! If you book this, think of it as a horse "experience" and not a horse "ride" as the riding time is so short. The beach is beautiful and I highly recommend doing the snorkelling at the beach, I saw hundreds of fish, many different colours and varieties. Pick up a snorkel for a few bucks at wal mart before you go and it won't cost you a dime. Gear can also be rented there. This stop is all it advertises, we loved it.
Other things I liked -- Although I like doing very active things (not HAL's thing) I loved the soft rock, not too loud music around the pool, the classy cruise director and the overall demeanor of the staff and fellow passengers. This is one thing I thought they could deliver for me and they did. I didn't care that there were lots of older people, I enjoyed them!
Other Things I didn't like -- the ship really seemed to sway more than I have experienced before. I am not sure it this was due to high seas, or if this ship is just more of a rocky ride?
Overall impression -- Although not perfect, it was very close. We had the time of our lives and I think this is a good mix of a classy ship combined with a good itinerary with opportunities to do some good excursions. I wish I were back there right now!