This review is intended primarily for those who dance and have cruised before, especially on HAL in previous years, in order to provide information we wished we had had prior to our cruise on the Nieuw Statendam in the spring of 2019. We ... Read More
This review is intended primarily for those who dance and have cruised before, especially on HAL in previous years, in order to provide information we wished we had had prior to our cruise on the Nieuw Statendam in the spring of 2019. We had read a good many other reviews of the ship prior to booking as well as reviews of her sister ship the Konigsdam to try to get a feel for the musical entertainment and dancing opportunities on board. A couple of these expressed disappointment that dance opportunities to which previous HAL cruisers had become accustomed were substantially curtailed. These were quite accurate. In virtually every other respect we were very pleased with the ship, but more of this later.
The new Pinnacle class ships center their entertainment on “Music Walk,” the deck-two (and partially three-deck) venue for the BB King Blues Club, the Rolling Stone Rock Room, and Billboard Onboard. Each of these venues have dance floors.
BB King shares its two-story venue with Lincoln Center on Stage essentially replacing the Queens Lounges on other vessels. The stage is larger, the dance floor smaller by about 30% and rectangular rather than semi-circular. The floor itself appears to be padded hardwood that is perfect for dancing. Patrons who dance with drinks in their hands often slosh onto the floor, but waiters, when asked will come out and wipe up spills. The need to clean the floor with some frequency leaves it sometimes dry and unwaxed and thus difficult for smooth dancing. The main problem for more serious dancers is that the music in so monotonous (constant fast tempo east coast swing and blues suitable for west coast with only the occasional cha cha or rumba 3-4 times per evening. The genre of music attracts many 60s-free-style dancers (who have every right to the floor), making it very crowded and sometimes frustrating to dance anything other than what they are doing. There are typically three sets per night and one night off for the band per week. Exercise care leaving the dance floor; it is one step up to the exit and it is easy to fall.
Billboard on Board is the latest incarnation of the dueling piano bar. The venue is larger than before and quite open to the hallway so as readily to attract passersby. There is a small circular dance floor (approximately 15ft) at one end of the room well away and facing the other direction from the pianists. This floor is rarely used. Dancing here is a challenge because there is no percussion and the tempos often syncopated. Of course, a piano bar is designed for something other than dancing, and it serves this purpose well, but it is possible to dance some of the time, though not much.
The Rolling Stone Rock Room is aptly named. A band plays cover several times each night, but the repertoire is limited and somewhat repetitive after a night or two. The dance floor, a rounded off rectangle of about 15 feet or so, is off to the side of the main stage and very near the entrance, which allows dancing without obstructing the view of other patrons—a nice innovation. The venue is directly across the hall from Billboard On Board and also open. These venues did not compete with each other as there were typically performances on only one side of the hall at a time, providing supplemental listening space. The music and singing was from our experience exclusively fast-tempo hard rock as the name implies. We were surprised that the fast pace was so relentless however. We heard not one ballad all week. Dancing will be essentially limited to swing, very fast rumba, and the occasional cha cha and nothing else.
The Ocean Bar, which previous passengers will recollect as a venue on other HAL ships at which a combo often played danceable music before and after dinner, still exists but no longer has a combo. There is a small stage with a grand piano, but no one played it at any time while we were on board. The dance floor is embarrassingly small—circular and only 10 feet in diameter. It could accommodate two couples at best, if the venue were ever used, and they would have to watch out for each other. We stopped by night after night hoping to hear at least some danceable muiszac-style elevator music. There was none and the venue was usually dark. Each time we walked past (right outside the fishbowl called Club Orange) it was empty and asilent a reminder of all that is missing on this ship. We contacted HALkat band members from a previous cuise on another ship, and they report that this is part of a general curtailment of dancing that is creeping into HAL. This is quite sad and disappointing on a cruise line that just a couple of years ago was marketing Dancing with the Stars.
There is a potentially magnificent dance floor in the Crow’s Nest, but in contrast to other HAL ships it is not used for this purpose. The CN is now the center for booking excursions, a coffee bar, library, and extremely pleasant vantage point; it is no longer a dance venue. We have been told that as other ships are refitted, they will follow this model.
Another element pertaining to dancing that surprised us, especially for a cruise leaving from South Florida, was the complete and total lack of latin music or dance, except perhaps for the few opportunities to cha cha mentioned above; nary a mambo, salsa, bolero, bachata, merengue, or tango was heard all week.
As for other genres, I think we heard two recorded fox trots during intermissions in various venues and two waltzes and even one Viennese, also recorded during intermissions. We met a very nice Canadian couple on the dance floor and the gentleman showed us his new dance shoes and remarked, “I bought these for this cruise, and there is no dancing.” We knew what he meant.
Most troubling is the dismissive attitude that the cruise line takes to the narrowness of the dance music offerings. We suggested that some recorded dance music could be played in unutilized venues over the course of the week, especially on nights when live musicians have the day off. There was none. We asked the cruise director, Jairo Lobo, if some additional dance opportunies could be provided; he brushed us off with,” But I like the music.” We are glad he does since he is stuck there every night, but his willingness to oblige was as limited as his musical appreciation. We turned in a polite and constructive suggestion card at the desk; it was never acknowledged. A cruise line executive told us that HAL had been concerned with the unevenness of the musicians before; they now approach musical entertainment as a matter of corporate partnerships, relying on brands rather than musical directors. This shows, for it seems only the corporate brands of music are available now. We suggested that their program could be enhanced by widening the genre of offerings, and these could be marketed in ways making them attractive to a wider audience of non-dancers. A single “Sinatra night,” for example, even a recorded one in an otherwise unused venue, would be one approach, costing the cruise line little to nothing. For now, branding seems to matter more than patrons.
Branding is not all bad, however. The line’s partnership with Step One dance company provides performances on the 270 degree World Stage that are indeed world class and genuinely superlative. These performances go well beyond musical theatre on cruise ships by an order of magnitude. This makes the narrowness of dance opportunities for passengers all the more ironic.
The Nieuw Statendam is an absolutely beautiful ship, which is well designed and in many respects state of the art. The staterooms make some of the best use of space we have seen on several cruise lines. The crew is well-trained, attentive, competent, and friendly, so the standard of service is just as high or higher than you may remember. The décor is light and modern with clean lines and open spaces. The art work, which has been a signature element of HAL, is fascinating, compelling, and effectively placed. The cuisine is also up to the usual standard and elegantly presented, which is significant in an environment in which other lines are obviously cutting corners. If the dance opportunities were not so narrow and the line so deaf to these limitations, we would rave about the ship. But, if dancing is important to you, this may not be the ship for you. Clearly the company is trying to alter its reputation as a line for older patrons. Music Walk is marketed as the core of the ship’s entertainment offerings, and it is. But those with any interest or experience in dancing, other than 1960s free-style, will find Music Walk perhaps too pedestrian.
On balance we would still recommend the Nieuw Statenam, and there is some glimmer of hope, given recent correspondence with corporate management, that they are at least developing an awareness of the shortcomings described here. We think they would like to be more accommodating but are somewhat boxed in by branding, the centrality of the Music Walk concept, a desire to shed some of their traditional image, and hardnosed business decisions about what the crowd wants or will appreciate. We know they are running a business and not a social club. But surely, if classes in towel folding are deemed attractive, a wider range of musical offerings must be as well. Our purpose here is to provide some of the particular information we wished had been available to us earlier on. Cruise on! Read Less