The title says the most important things about the recent cruise my wife and I took aboard HAL's Nieuw Amsterdam.
The gracious and attentive crew of HAL ships, the backbone of HAL's reputation, was all that we expected it would be. The Indonesian stewards in the cabins and the dining area, as well as the cleaning crew, were extremely polite, friendly, and attentive to our needs. Never did I pass an Indonesian crew member without seeing a smile - not once. I never walked from forward to aft without seeing one of the crew cleaning a public area of the ship.
The Filipino bartenders, bar stewards, and Front Office crew were warm and kind, knowledgeable and funny, and gracious. Michael (a.k.a. Boozee), Henry Jr., Henry, Bill, Mac, Antonio, Ronaldo, Jenny, and Liany were exceptional in the bar staff. Bong, R.J., Pierce, Abigail, Jola, and Jodi were exceptional at the Front Office. Jodi, the Guest Relations Manager, made us feel welcome as soon as we came to the Lido Deck. Unlike on other cruise lines, the officers of the ship were polite and attentive in their interactions with guests.
There were only two disappointments on the cruise: the Entertainment Department as a whole, and a dearth of variety in the night time Showroom at Sea entertainment lounge. As a former entertainment staff with HAL, I feel compelled to be more thorough in this part of the review.
Individually, the members of the department and the cast of the shows were very nice and did a very good job - whether that was in the Showroom at Sea, running their respective events, or striking up conversation in the public areas of the ship. Those of special mention are Sam and Kevin from the cast, who were wonderful on stage and very nice socializing on the Lido Deck, JC the Cruise Director, who was clever and funny and a great host in the nighttime game shows, Ashley, who hosted the Culinary Demonstrations, Ian, the Travel Guide, keyboardist, and Good Morning Nieuw Amsterdam co-host - a true Renaissance man - and Jenny, the singer in the house band, the HAL Cats, on the ship.
Again, the individuals did a very good job, but the department failed to deliver the type of entertainment experience that HAL used to have when the department consisted of Assistant Cruise Directors instead of the current Explorations Team: a "Lifestylist", "Party Planner", "DJ", "Techspert", and "Travel Guide". I won't blame the individuals; the team is pigeon-holed in its current lineup. When you label someone a "Techspert" or "Party Planner" instead of the omnibus "Assistant Cruise Director", one tends to focus solely on those things under her title. While it's true that having a Lifestylist allows that person to dedicate herself to yoga and tai chi and seminars about healthy lifestyles, it also prevents them from being the type of all-around entertainer, social bon vivant, and Jack-of-all-trades that gives spark and flavor to cruise ship entertainment teams. The department would have benefitted greatly from having two or three dedicated assistant cruise directors who were tasked with the generic but essential job of making sure the guests are having a fun time.
As for the lack of variety in the Showroom lounge, I don't blame the cast for that either. The cast was good, and the all-male singing group known as Cantare was an ambitious and excellent new show with select cast members, but where were the magicians, the jugglers, the concert pianist or guitarist, the impressionists, etc.? The entertainment lineup was roughly this: the usual introductory night on the first night of the cruise - a very enjoyable affair - one movie-night (aboard a ship that already has a dedicated screening room), one night for a comedian, and four nights of cast shows - four nights. This cruise would have benefited mightily from a Joel Mason, a Julie Barr, a DV8 Reality Magic, a Bob Cates, a Jeff Burghart, or other supremely entertaining act.
When it comes to it, however, my wife and I cruise for the hospitable and gracious and service-oriented South East Asian crew, the excellent food, and the wonderful interior of HAL ships. We can easily pass the days and nights at the various bars visiting, drinking, and conversing with our favorite Filipino bar staff, eating at the excellent restaurants aboard, and enjoying the amenities of HAL's newest cruise ship, the ms Nieuw Amsterdam.