Nieuw Amsterdam Entertainment
Much of the action onboard takes place on Decks 2 and 3, between entrances to the Showroom at the bow and Manhattan at the aft. There, you'll find bars, lounges, the casino, a 36-seat cinema and rooms for culinary and computer classes. Deck 11 is home to my favorite bar, the slinky Silk Den, which offers a great view of the sea.
If you want to learn about cooking, entertaining, technology or health, this is the ship for you. Holland America leads the cruising world with opportunities for classes in its Culinary Arts Center, built like the set of a television show and presented by Food & Wine magazine. There is also a free Digital Workshop in partnership with Microsoft. On my cruise, the computer and digital camera classes were packed full. Most are daytime classes, and most are free, with the exceptions of food classes with alcohol and some sessions at the Greenhouse Spa.
At night, the three-deck, 890-seat Showroom at Sea presents Las Vegas-style revues and guest performers like a comedic magician. The smoky casino on Deck 2, with the usual game tables and slot machines, is often busy and filled with the sound of "ca-ching ca-chinging."
The ship's multiple lounges -- the Queen's Lounge, Ocean Bar, Piano Bar, Explorer's Lounge, Crow's Nest and Northern Lights -- are full of opportunities to play games (perhaps trivia or liar's club), listen to music (everything from Motown to classical) and dance. One evening, the bar staff leads a pub crawl ($20 per person), which includes four drinks. The Ocean Bar was packed before dinner, the Piano Bar later in the evening. On some late nights, the Northern Lights disco was abuzz; on other nights, it was empty.
Note: Holland America publishes my favorite daily newsletter, clearly and cleanly designed to help passengers plan their days. One portion is easily detached to carry around with all the times for events, meals and the movie of the day shown in the cinema.
As for shore excursions, in addition to the usual offerings, Holland America features some relatively new alternatives, including zip-lining in Puerto Rico and fishing with a guide at Grand Turk.
Nieuw Amsterdam Public Rooms
Positive design changes from sister ship Eurodam -- elimination of some walls and more simple furniture -- are particularly evident at midship on Deck 1, where the front office has expanded into what was a bar on Eurodam. (Desk folks, too, have improved measurably on their can-do politeness.) You'll notice changes again on Deck 3, where the Ocean Bar is now a more inviting place to hang out and dance before and after dinner. From Deck 1, passengers can see the impressive Manhattan skyline sculpture that hangs upside down. From Deck 3, they can see a mirror image, the same sculpture pointed skyward. Deck 3 is also home to shops that sell souvenirs, jewelry and typical cruise clothing; a photo gallery; and meeting rooms. The shore excursion desk is on Deck 1.
New York was known as Nieuw Amsterdam by its Dutch founders. Except for the Manhattan Restaurant, which hardly feels Manhattan-ish (perhaps the nifty yellow taxi in the children's area should be moved downstairs), the New York theme works well throughout the ship, especially in the art collection. I spent hours in hallways and stairwells looking at old pictures and prints of Manhattan and its maritime history, well detailed in an iPod guided art tour that is available free.
Deck 11 is home to the Crow's Nest and Explorations Cafe, which combines a coffee house (items for a fee), computers for surfing the Internet, a card room and library. Cost for computer use is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy 100 minutes for $55.
There is no self-service laundry room onboard.
Nieuw Amsterdam Spa & Fitness
Once you climb to Deck 9, you may want to stay for the day. It's home to the Greenhouse Spa, the main midship Lido pool (with three hot tubs) -- which can all be covered by a retractable magrodome roof in inclement weather -- and the Sea View Bar and adults-only pool (with two hot tubs) at the aft.
For privacy, curtained cabanas line one windowed wall of the Lido. They each contain a chaise lounge for two and small table. They can be rented for $30 for the day when the ship is in port or $50 on sea days. The price includes beverage and lunch services, as well as iPods uploaded with music. More exclusive are the cabanas in the private Cabana Club, which overlooks the Lido Deck from Deck 11. These are large, open-air tents that are furnished like living rooms with dining tables. Available by day or by the week, they tend to be booked up before the cruise at $45 to $115 per day, depending on size. Corner units are the largest.
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon offers all the usual services, such as massages, facials and pedicures. Its relaxation room is a treat, with a quiet view of the sea -- reason enough to come early for your massage and leave late. It also offers a thermal suite, hydro pool and sauna. The adjacent fitness center, which features circuit-training machines and free weights, offers sunrise stretches each morning at 7 a.m. Many of the fitness classes are free. A few -- yoga, Pilates, spinning -- cost $12.
Volleyball and basketball courts can be found on Deck 11. The outside promenade on Deck 3 is perfect for a brisk walk, as it goes all the way around the ship.