Background information: This was our second cruise on Holland America, and we totally loved it, again. We chose HAL because of (a) the itinerary, (b) start/end on a Sunday, and (c) the service and food on our previous HAL cruise. We really loved how new the ms Nieuw Amsterdam was, and how everything was spotless. Since our cruise was in mid-December, the ship was decorated beautifully for Christmas. Lots of trees loaded with ornaments, and garland dripping ornaments everywhere.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: This was our first cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale. We dropped off our Hertz rental car at the nearby Crowne Plaza, and caught the Hertz shuttle to the cruise ship terminal. The terminal was enormous, and very well organized. There were five ships in port that day, and all of them were separated, with their own terminals. It took maybe a Â½ hour from the time the shuttle dropped us off, until we were on the ship.
Stateroom: Our room was available immediately, which was great. Luggage arrived within about an hour. We were in room 7094 (category VA), which is towards the back of the ship, and very near the elevator, which was a nice bonus. We found a deal on a category VH room, so we booked it, even though we didn't really want that category due to the metal balcony. Luckily we were upgraded to a VA category 2 weeks before the cruise. The room was very nice. Bathroom was large enough, and included a bath-tub. There were 3 closets, and plenty of storage space. Room had a flat screen TV on the wall. There was a small couch, coffee table, chair, and foot stool which had storage room inside. The balcony was really nice, with two plastic wicker chairs and small table. Luckily our neighbours were very quiet and we rarely saw them.
Deck 11 -- Observation: The Crow's Nest was very nice and spacious with a great view. We never saw many people here. On the Alaska cruise this area was always packed with people at all hours. But in the Caribbean that weren't many people hanging out here. Explorations Cafe had a nice library, but we found the internet speed wasn't really much better here than anywhere else. Cabana Club was pretty amazing, if you want to spend the extra $ for your own private cabana. I think it might be pretty windy up there though. Silk Den was a great place, with a great view. I don't think many people know about it because we rarely ran into other people there. We used the private areas with beautiful loungers every night to use our laptop and internet access. For some reason it seemed faster there.
Deck 9 -- Lido: Greenhouse Spa & Salon was nice. On one of the "at sea" days we did the foot & ankle massage for only $39. It was well worth it, and the ladies who did the massages were so nice and charming, and interesting. Lido Pool often had people lying around it on the comfy loungers. Depending on the weather the roof was sometimes open and sometimes closed. There were never a lot of people in the pool, but it's a great place to hang out. There were about 10 private cabanas that you could rent around the pool. Sea View Pool was great too, with lots of loungers. We swam there once, just so we could say we tried it. There were never many people swimming there either.
Deck 3 - Promenade: The Showroom at Sea was beautiful, and covered 3 decks. We often sat on deck 2 to enjoy the shows. Screening Room was great for watching movies, and getting free popcorn. We went one night, but left early since we didn't enjoy that particular movie. Shops were good, and they had a lot of sales through-out the week. They also had a lot of draws for free prizes. On "at sea" days they had sidewalk sales around the Lido Pool. Atrium was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Ocean Bar was surprisingly crowded a lot of the time. We especially enjoyed the wooden loungers with cushions outside on this level. It's a great area to read a book, have a nap, and enjoy the scenery.
Deck 2 -- Lower Promenade Deck: Piano Bar was busy after the shows ended in the The Showroom at Sea. Casino was nice, and we actually did quite well on the slot machines. We went to bingo one day, and karaoke one night in the Queen's Lounge. Both were a lot of fun. For $25 you had good odds of winning hundreds of dollars at bingo. Explorer's Lounge is a nice area to hang out, but there were rarely any people there.
Manhattan Dining Room: We did the As You Wish dining, and ate on level 2 of the dining room. We never had to wait to get in, and were always able to get a table for two. All meals were extraordinary, and the service was superb. I can't say enough about the food on HAL ... it is first class.
Pinnacle Grill: We ate there on my birthday. Caesar salad was made right at our table. Lobster bisque was made right at our table. Filet mignon was fabulous. Baked potatoes were enormous. White and dark truffles were yummy. And they brought a chocolate mousse cake for my birthday. Which was followed by chocolate soufflÃ©. I could hardly walk out of there, but loved every bite. The dÃ©cor is luxurious.
Lido Restaurant: The buffet is so tasty on HAL. There is lots of variety for every meal. I think my favorite is the many choices of eggs benedict for breakfast. Every night there was a buffet with foods from different parts of the world. I was usually too full to enjoy the late night food.
In-room dining: We had breakfast many days in our room. We never did quite figure out what time to put on the room service request. They always seemed to come about 20 minutes before we expected them. We also ordered the surf & turf on one of the formal nights, and enjoyed a great meal in our room.
Dessert Extravaganza: This was around the Lido Pool on the second "at sea" day, late at night. There was soooooo much food. There were loads of desserts, plus fruit & chocolate fountain, candy floss, breads, and sugar-free desserts. The most amazing thing was the display of candy apples. There was a huge display, with many different coatings. Unbelievable.
Activities: We did the "On Deck For The Cure" walk, to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. It's a great way to raise some money, and enjoy the scenery. You can walk the entire route, or whatever you feel like. We did the behind the scenes kitchen tour, which was free, and quite interesting.
Service: First class. It's one of the things I like best about HAL. All the staff are friendly, and helpful. We met our room stewards on the first day, and they took great care of us.
Entertainment: We went to The Showroom every night to enjoy the shows. The entertainers were quite talented, but I found the shows disjointed. There was a lot of music to appeal to the older folks on board.
Disembarkation: We were off the ship around 9:00 AM. Picked up our luggage, went through customs, and were outside within Â½ hour. There were helpful people in the cruise terminal to direct us to the taxis. We were in a cab within minutes, and at the Fort Lauderdale airport very quickly. It's quite shocking to go from the ship to the plane in such a short time, but it's easy to do in Fort Lauderdale.
Summary: I love the HAL ships, and I'm looking forward to cruising with them again.