Sail Date: March 2015
I read all the reviews before I left and I only had two concerns, one being entertainment, and two being the vibration reported. I'm happy to say my wife and I had a wonderfull time! Food was very good, and the menu was varied, with ... Read More
I read all the reviews before I left and I only had two concerns, one being entertainment, and two being the vibration reported. I'm happy to say my wife and I had a wonderfull time! Food was very good, and the menu was varied, with many seafood options and beef, with smaller portions, was always on the main dining room menu. One little trick my wife and I do is to each order on entre and then order a fish entre we both can share. Hopefully something new to try. We are not big on buffets, but we did eat lunch once in the pushy old people line and my Asian choices were very good and my wife's salad was also fresh and good. The salad bar is impressive. We went to the omlet station for breakfast four days and the main dining room the other three since we got tired of waiting and hearing. I say hearing because I'm floored by how people treat the workers who serve the food. I can only take so much of people barking out instructions or complaining about things out of the servers control, so I will just move on to the main dining room so I don't have to witness disrespect. I always say please and thank you because I know how hard these people work! Again, I'm floored by peoples treatment of the workers. They should be ashamed of themselves. As for the entertainment, yes it was borderline. The percussion group made it all OK. Great concept, put people in a theater with drum sticks and pans, observe the kid in them come out, then give them a show with their involvement. It was fun. The broadway style shows were a good effort by performers but the canned music limited their impact. The BB King group was impressive. Overall compared to other lines Id say they have some work to do. No comedian. Sometimes people need a good laugh. They could start with buffet line jokes, has to be thousands of those! OK, now to the vibration. Its there. Some reviews made it out to be happiness ending, all consuming irritation. BS. To an overprivaledge snob who believes nothing should ever invade his peace maybe it was that way. But to this hard working farmer who can only take one full week a year to vacation it was very tolerable. Yes our bed(deck 5 mid) had a slight shake, but we both slept good and hardly noticed it after the first night. Some parts of the ship it was more pronounced though. One a.m. at lido my iced tea glass kept walking to edge of a slanted table. That was the worst I witnessed. I did experience it going away from time to time which leads me to believe its fixable. Since the boats going to drydock this week hopefully they will fix it. Overall a wonder full cruise. Ports all good. We love the Caribbean, St John was impressive. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: February 2015
About Us: We are an active married couple ages 55 & 63 at the time of the cruise. This cruise marks our 3 Holland America cruise and my 15th cruise overall. Our 9th cruise together in the past 10 years. I just added it up and I have ... Read More
About Us: We are an active married couple ages 55 & 63 at the time of the cruise. This cruise marks our 3 Holland America cruise and my 15th cruise overall. Our 9th cruise together in the past 10 years. I just added it up and I have spend 105 days at sea in my life! Seems like a lot to me, but there are single voyages in the brochures that are longer than that! We intended to sail on the Holland America 14 day New Zealand Discovery but we cancelled due to the unexpected very high cost of the shore excurions in the New Zealand ports of call.... but that's another story. In exchange we booked a "back to back" 14 day cruise on a "nieuw" ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam (new for us). We just wanted to get out of the cold weather and relax so we chose a familiar itinerary. One where we had been to all of the ports before and didn't feel the need to do too much in port. EMBARKATION We arrived from the Pacific Northwest the day prior and stayed overnight at a hotel near Port Everglades. It was Superbowl Sunday and we wanted to get on the ship as early as possible to get settled and find out where the game would be showing so we arrived about 12:00 noon and checked our 6 pieces of luggage (yes, I overpacked) in with the porters and were ushered into the terminal to check in. The lines were short and moved very quickly. As long as you fill out all of your documentation at home and have your Express Docs and your proper ID ready to go, it's quite expedient. I believe from the time we entered the building after dropping off our luggage to the time we stepped aboard it was only 15 minutes. The agent who assisted us took our photos and was friendly and pleasant. We no longer stop for the photo ops when embarking or disembarking. Upon boarding we were greeted and advised which general direction to head to in order to find our AFT cabin. (not the pointy end) My first impressions were that the ship seemed very nice. Subtle and tasteful deco and no unpleasant smells in the corridors. CABIN Our aft cabin 7141 was perfect. We were so pleased with it's size and that it had a very comfortable bathroom and bathtub/shower combo. If you drop your razor you can actually bend over and pick it up without hitting your bum and your head at the same time! Christina and her assistant HoHo were our cabin attendants for the 2 weeks. She made a point immediately to introduce herself and to learn both our first names and always greet us with a smile and something nice to say. There was a mixup n the bed configuration and she promptly rearranged them into a king size bed from twins after we set out to explore the ship. She attended to our ice and fresh fruit requests and we politely told her it was "ok" to skip the towel folding for us each night. They are cute, but I thought if I could save her 3 minutes a day for 14 days she would appreciate it. Since I over packed I needed more hangers (a lot more) and she happily brought me some right away. When that wasn't enough (I counted wrong) I called "90" ... and they brought me 10 more right away. On our bed were a number of pre-paid package "gifts" and "invitations" to dine at the specialty restaurants, information on our Admiral 7-Bottle pre-paid wine package as well as a pre-paid 3 liters of alcohol to be consumed in our cabin... which we never opened. What we didn't know is that our travel agent had arranged a "Signature Beverage Package" for us. More on this later. SPECIAL OCCASION As I mentioned, it was Superbowl Sunday and we came in our "Sunday Best" ... SEAHAWKS attire ready to enjoy the big game and the years best commercials, only to find out they were broadcasting the game from ESPN International and the reception was not HD or even clear for that matter. Never mind who won the game ... that was a big let down for us. They showed the game in the big showroom and had a section cordoned off for VIP seating. I don't know if anyone bought into that. We sat up front and it was perfect. Besides we had the "signature beverage package" and didn't have to pay for any drinks. They had a cake on each side of the theatre entrance, 1 for the each team, nicely decorated and a mini buffet of bar food, sandwiches, quesadillas, chips, guacamole, salsa, buffalo wings, etc. Overall they did a great job .. except for the clarity of the broadcast of such an important game. The only commercials we saw were for cricket matches and rugby and cricket and weren't mainstream. Dining Starting with the Lido. I was satisfied, if not impressed. I don't like buffets because of the lines and the people reaching and breathing and touching - but most of the self serve things were set up well and many of the buffet items required interaction from the servers behind the counter. They were always friendly. Especially the omelet gal .. very personable. At one end of the Lido is a cordoned off section they call Canaletto's. This is an uncharge restaurant we never tried due to it's location in the Lido. We forfeited our prepaid dinner there for that reason. Fast Food: Outside the Lido doors is the Dive-In. Fabulous burger and hot dog place where you have a choice of burgers and dogs to choose from. You put in your order and they give you a vibrating alarm for when your food is ready. Fabulous idea. Gives you time to get a drink and find a table. Dining tables outside the Lido and inside were scarce on most days at peak times, but you can eventually find a place to eat. There were some imitation rattan chairs and ottomans with cushions on them that were quite comfortable by the Lido pool and some palm trees to give it a tropical look. Main Dining Room. We had anytime dining. We always had a table for 2 by request and our dining room supervisor made sure we got the table we wanted each night. I have to say that as we passed by everyone else dining I noticed there were many tables right in front of the bus stations and I wondered why folks accepted that. I realize that there must be bus stations, but I think the designers of the ships should find a way to keep that out of sight. Food here was quite good most nights. I didn't think the desserts were that great this cruise. I also felt that although our waiter, Dika and assistant were super friendly, (and taught me how to say thank you in their language "terima kasih") I always felt like they rushed our dinner order, but I don't think it was anything they themselves could control. We really appreciate that Holland America does not try to perform a song and dance in the dining room. Our second week there were a few birthday songs.. that gets old. Admiral Wine Package: We bought the 7 bottle package for 14 nights and it was perfect. We also had 2 14-day Signature Beverage Cards compliments of our travel agent .. wow that was a huge bonus. All you can drink of anything on the menu under $7.95 .. which is any well drink and most all of the specialty cocktails except cordials and top shelf.. and they don't work on Half Moon Cay. Pinnacle Grill: We pre purchased a package with 2 dinners here and 1 dinner at Canaletto (not used) and 1 dinner at Tamarind (went there 2x) . Pinnacle Grill is an uncharge steak house. We did not eat there on the nights it was turned into Le Cirque, but on 2 formal nights. Much nicer than the main dining room as you would expect, but there were items on the menu that had uncharges after paying an uncharge to eat there. Seriously .. tacky. And .. about that "no shorts" policy... on our formal night there was a gentleman in there looking very sporty in his neon pink Bermuda shorts .. and a dress shirt and jacket. Kind of like saying my Beagle is a companion dog and sneaking him on a flight or in a restaurant. People do the darnedest things. Tamarind: Cannot say enough GOOD about this restaurant. Also the Silk Den bar next to it is the best kept secret on the ship. Very classy - top notch service (much better than in the Pinnacle) beautiful decor and SUPERB Asian/Fusion and Sushi. Both visits here I had Phó (wrong symbol.. I know) to die for. Sushi was super fresh and beautiful presented. We had a piece of filet that was so tender you could cut it with your chopsticks. Hot towels, appetizers .. 5 star. Room Service: The worst. We had breakfast in our cabin on day 2. Watered down coffee, cold toast, barely warm eggs, no place in the cabin to comfortably eat.. we had a sitting area with an oval table that could only house the tray. They called to ask us if everything was ok, but we had to tell the truth. They sent us chocolate covered strawberries later that afternoon to apologize. We tried one more time the following week and it was just as bad. Not sure if lunch or dinner is different. Also we called to have the tray removed and it took 3 hours and we had to call twice. I really hate all the "class separation" the cruise ships are doing now. Pay extra for cabanas, pay extra for thermal suites... They wanted $499 for 14 days for a couple to use each one of these. So for an extra $1000 we would be able to get into a bigger hot tub (I have done this before .. it's nice, but not that great) .. I did enjoy the tile beds on another HAL cruise, but I paid much less. As for the retreat areas .. I have to say I just laughed as I walked by knowing how much money people spent on them. Trust me, they weren't having any more fun than I was. We were on deck 7 and as we walked forward from our aft cabin .. we always passed the "special" Neptune room .. for suite folks.... I'm sure I would enjoy it if I were in there, but I just can't see spending the extra money for a suite. Pools: Loved that they were fresh water. Did you know that this ship generates it's own fresh water from a desalinization plant onboard the ship to the tune of 500,000 gallons per day? It's crazy. (my numbers may be off) ... after I heard that we drank more Pellegrino ! Just kidding. We always drink Pellegrino. We liked the Sea View Pool (adults only) .. however our first week there were only 7 kids onboard. The hot tubs were actually hot enough .. .and kept clean with bromine vs chlorine .. I asked. We loved the pool layout. Chairs are always taken up early. You have go out and stake your claim before the sun really comes out.. but they discourage that with signs, but everyone still does it and nobody really enforces they time limit. Deck chairs need to be updated. Towels readily available. Worst cruise ever was one we had to sign out the towels each day... thank goodness HAL doesn't require that. Gym: Great machines and stair climbers and ellipticals facing the sea. Many of the TV's tied in were no working though and need to be fixed. I used the gym 5-6 times in 2 weeks. Nice little fridge with damp towels for your face to cool off. The Serbian guys that work the gym were friendly and gave classes on detoxing your body .. with a sales pitch at the end .. we signed up for the body analysis on a 2:1 but it was really a waste of time... it ended with them trying to sell you hundreds of dollars in seaweed treatments! Salon and Spa : Did not use it. Too expensive Kids: Didn't bring any - HAL has a kids club but the area is small. If you have kids .. take them on Disney or RCCL. You will have more fun. Casino: The usual. We had bad luck 2 nights - so they got maybe $150 from us.. usually my husband does better. The dealers were friendly but they only had 1 straight blackjack table .. the other tables were variation games.. so inevitably there is 1 crowded table. Plus they have 9 points on the table instead of 7 .. too many players.. only 7 stools fit. 2 must stand. Big 6 deck shoe The slot machines work with your card key or money, but they don't give you money.. you have to take your receipt to the cage to get any winnings or leftovers. Oh yea... SMOKING is allowed in there. And in the sports bar next door... No Cigar Bar: Had to go to the Seaview Bar in back. Art: Same old stuff from Park West. Tarkay, Kincaid, etc.. we don't participate but they offered free champagne at the auctions... if you want to get a free drink from them! Photos: This is a dying feature (I hope) on the ships... I guess it's great for first time cruisers .. we haven't bought a photo in a long time. Once on a family reunion cruise we bought one. They also had a upscale studio set up for anyone wanting professional portraits. Digital Workshop: I cannot criticize because I didn't attend, however I walked by and it was mostly older folks (like me!) who probably only use their computers at home for email. Next time I will sit in to see what it's all about.. Culinary Arts: Wanted to go sit in, but it never worked out. They had the owners of Le Cirque on board and they were giving cooking demos and tastings. Lounges: Best thing on this cruise was the BB King Lounge each night. Fabulous R and B group from Memphis... (not Indonesia) playing great music to listen to and dance to. Many other bars throughout the ship.. they were nice and offered nibbles before dinner with the drinks. Shows: We peeked in on them and they were really really awful. They need better talent. RCCL is doing a full scale production of "Chicago" .. NCL has the Jean Ann Ryan Company doing great stuff .. Dancing With The Stars: Very entertaining to watch fellow passengers pretend to be on this show. They learned a dance in the afternoon.. the best man and woman got picked to pair up with a ships show dancer on the last night and then they competed via applause for the "mirror ball trophy" .. no real mirror ball just applause.. and if they were actually really good, they might get chosen by HAL at the end of the year to get a free cruise and compete in the big production with real DWTS cast members. Northern Lights: Did not go there. Back to Back Experience: Nice not having to pack up and leave. We stayed on the ship that day and watched the transformation from "last day of the cruise" to "first day of the cruise" ... by the way. In case you are wondering.. we had to muster both weeks. Shore Excursions: We bought ours from an outside vendor due to pricing and overcrowding of ship tours. I guess that is why they call it Cruise Critic ... We tend to pick out the negative. So let me say something positive. I love HAL. It totally fits my age and cruise desires. There is something for everyone and they have the best cabins in the industry for the price. I had a bathtub for Pete's sake. Great friendly service and so much more classy than their counterparts. Disembarking after two weeks.. smooth and we were literally the last people to pick up our bags. We had no flight leaving and were staying an extra day so we held back and asked for late departure. I would not do another back to back. I would just choose a longer itinerary.   Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015
We had a two week cruise around the Eastern and Western Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam at the end of January 2015. After a flight from London Heathrow on an American Airlines plane, there was a weather system of some sort so hours of ... Read More
We had a two week cruise around the Eastern and Western Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam at the end of January 2015. After a flight from London Heathrow on an American Airlines plane, there was a weather system of some sort so hours of turbulence made the flight uncomfortable, we made it to Miami. As the ESTA system was supposed to make life easier for tourists I don’t know what went wrong there but it took us over two hours to get through immigration. If we ever go on a Caribbean cruise again it will not be through the USA. We spent one night in the Sonesta hotel in Fort Lauderdale then boarded our ship. There was some problem at the boarding stage so it took over two hours to get through the system. We were in an inside cabin 7105 and it was quite comfortable. The air conditioning worked reasonably well but was slow to react when changing the dial, the bed was comfortable and the shower was very good. There was only one chair so being in the cabin wasn’t that comfortable. The first week we sailed the Eastern Caribbean to Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St Thomas and we were supposed to stop at Half Moon Cay but the weather dictated we didn’t so we had an extra day at sea. It was cold in the evening on that part of the cruise and seemed to rain every night. The second week we sailed to Half Moon Cay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Key West. The weather was warmer for this week. We paid $45 each for a trip on Grand Turk and it was money wasted. There is very little to see there. On Tuesday January 27th we booked a trip for the following day on Puerto Rico at a cost of over $100 for two. I became ill the following morning so couldn’t go on the trip and my wife didn’t want to leave me. I spent two days in my cabin, missing Puerto Rico and St Thomas, and when my wife went to see the Shore Excursions team they said that we would have to cancel the excursion on the Monday, the day before we booked it, to get a refund. That made me mad. They have no idea of customer service so that makes me think I shall never use them again. We did several other trips with the ship and in the main they were ok, especially the one in Cozumel where we went to see the ruins at San Gervasio. However, on Key West we took an elongated trolley trip but there is very little to see outside of the main town. I had been led to believe that the USA was cheap but Key West is certainly not. The food on the ship was quite good with breakfast and lunch in the Lido being very good. However in the evening there was little on offer and I can only assume the management are of the opinion most people would eat in the main restaurants, which is not the case. We only eat in the main restaurant twice during our cruise. The first time it took two and a half hours and although the second time it only took an hour, we had a table for two, the restaurant was freezing so we were glad to get out of there. The entertainment was pretty good with the star of the cruise being a Steel Band from Trinidad called Island Magic. The BB King Blues Band are very good. Overall the Nieuw Amsterdam is a cold ship with air conditioning making many of the public rooms feeling inhospitable and on several occasions we had to leave an event because it was just too cold. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2015
We sailed Jan 4 with a group of 20 ranging from 1 to 70+. The highlight for me was the food, which was very good. We ate all but two nights in main dining room and were very happy with the food, especially lobster and escargot. We had ... Read More
We sailed Jan 4 with a group of 20 ranging from 1 to 70+. The highlight for me was the food, which was very good. We ate all but two nights in main dining room and were very happy with the food, especially lobster and escargot. We had breakfast daily at Lido, which was very good. I loved the made to order eggs benedict and crepes. Lunch at the Lido buffet was very good as well, especially the Asian station. We did lunch one day at Tamarind and were disappointed. Dinner at Tamarind, on the other hand, was excellent and should not be missed. We did one dinner at Pinnacle Grill, which was so-so, probably would skip that if we were to do again. We were very disappointed with the entertainment and children's programming. We hoped to enjoy the food theater, but on our only time there they had technical difficulties and couldn't operate the stove. With the exception of "Recycled Percussion", which was very good, singers and dancers were sub-par-felt like high school drama show. Children's programming consisted largely of supervised video games & ice cream breaks, which our kids enjoyed, but as a parent we were hoping for more. The ship is nice, but there did not seem like there were many activities/programming. Everyday we'd check the daily planner and there was nothing there for us. We swam in the pools and wanted to use the hot tubs, but they were closed much of the cruise to fight a small outbreak of sickness (none of us were infected). I found the sauna on the last day, which was small but nice: I wish I had found that sooner. We chose this cruise for the price (kids free) and the ports (Half moon cay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Key West) both of which were very good, but were disappointed with entertainment & kids activities. We really enjoyed beach and BBQ at Half moon cay and enjoyed stingrays & turtle farm in Grand Cayman. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2015
We’re a British couple in our very late twenties. I’ve only ever sailed with Costa Cruises on 4 previous voyages over the years, gradually seeing their supreme service decline into a floating shambles, and vowed never to cruise with ... Read More
We’re a British couple in our very late twenties. I’ve only ever sailed with Costa Cruises on 4 previous voyages over the years, gradually seeing their supreme service decline into a floating shambles, and vowed never to cruise with them again. This was my partner’s first ever cruise, and he only agreed to ‘go it a go’ but was skeptical about the whole thing, so I chose HAL and the Nieuw Amsterdam because of both attractive pricing for our balcony cabin (5021) and the many positive reviews on here that meant we'd get a much more premium experience. We did the ‘back to back’ (aka Collector Voyage in HAL terms) itinerary of Eastern, then Western Caribbean, sailing from Fort Lauderdale. In summary, we loved the ship, the food was mostly fantastic, service was A* from every member of staff, the entertainment options were varied and engaging (even for us youngsters)… BUT… the ship clearly had an engine issue whilst we were on board, which did unfortunately mean it was not the perfectly restful holiday I had hoped. Instead, I was deprived of sleep because the fixtures of the cabin rattled very loudly at night, due to the strong juddering of the engines, which I’ve never experienced on the other ships I’ve sailed on. Even more disappointingly, we paid more to have an forward cabin to be away from the engines at the stern, but it’s completely pointless as it certainly felt this ship had engines / thrusters at the bow too. After reading the most recent reviews, it’s clear an issue identified with the engine the week before we embarked wasn’t fixed entirely, and the although obviously fixed to be sea worthy, I don’t think the Captain should have sailed her in this state when it must have caused discomfort to make others too. After complaining to the Front Office, we did receive some compensation for the issue, but reflecting on this, it’s disappointing that the Captain (who was wonderfully informative about everything else ship-related) did not let us know about the issue and acknowledge the juddering was not the norm. However, I can also see from reviews that the ship is going into dry dock very soon, so I can only hope, with the high standards HAL clearly operate to in everything else, that this problem is fixed and the Nieuw Amsterdam sails smoothly once more. So please don’t let that put you off if you’re thinking of booking in the medium to longer term. Cruisers who are embarking before dry dock though – beware! I probably won’t mention anything here in the rest of the review that hasn’t been mentioned before, so this is just our opinion as passengers from a younger age bracket and less experienced cruisers. It’s probably useful to reiterate I am comparing this experience only to Costa Cruises, which is a value line for the European market, and not the likes of Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL etc. (here’s hoping I will be lucky enough to try them too in future). Here are our thoughts on the main aspects of the experience. Ship Interiors & Passenger Flow The design was very understated compared to Costa ships; the décor is neutral, tasteful and elegant – it felt luxurious and the ship is certainly has the most class when docked alongside others, with its striking navy blue hull. Everything seemed to be kept spotlessly clean by the crew and I’d wholeheartedly disagree with the review recently that said everything was dirty and they ‘wouldn’t sit on the chairs in the Crow’s Nest’ followed by a childish ‘ewww’. I never spotted anything that wasn’t spotless, and I have very high standards of cleanliness, so I dread to think what that particular reviewer is like to live with! Anyway, I digress. I thought the design of the decks was mostly spot on – the only exception being in the Lido buffet (more on that later) and the ship, although full, allowed for easy traffic flow. The only thing I missed was the midship soaring atrium, something typical of Costa and the Joe Farcas’ style – there’s only a small atrium spanning Decks 1 – 3, with an interesting light fitting, and some midship glass lifts that travel up and down the port and starboard facades of the ship, but that’s all. However, it’s a small price to pay for the otherwise excellent food and service of HAL compared to Costa. Stateroom – Balcony / ‘Veranda’ Cabin, VC grade I was a little worried after reading reviews about the lack of drawers in our stateroom, and the virtual tour certainly made the room look much smaller than Costa’s balcony cabins, but I was pleased with what we found in reality – plenty of storage room and homely, tasteful decor. There’s three wardrobes, two of which have optional shelving you can fold down, so we had plenty of room to unpack foldable as well as hanging clothes. Ok, the bedside cabinets have only two small drawers, but they are both quite long, so have enough room for one’s ‘smalls’ and then an open shelf for books etc. There’s also (and some may not have realised this) a large drawer at the bottom of each bed, underneath. It will look like a large wooden box from the side, but opens at the front and after removing any blankets in there (we put these in the wall cupboards above the sofa), the drawers are as deep as the space under the bed so you can get a lot in them. Décor wise, I liked the tasteful neutral colours, though I agree with other reviewers that the hallway is quite dark, so you’ll need the full lights on to find anything hidden at the back of wardrobe shelves. Really not a biggie though. We had a bath in our bathroom and I much preferred this to the showers typical of this grade. For a little room it felt spacious and had some decent storage too – glass shelves up one side of the mirror and then a long shelf under the sink. Loved the Elemis toiletries too. Service We couldn’t really fault the service from every member of staff we encountered. Everyone smiled, said hello and genuinely (despite working very hard) seemed happy, which is evidence of a good employer. On Costa, there is no such warmth, let me tell you! Our room stewards were fantastic and we were always seeing them in the corridor, singing and joking with each other whilst still doing a great job – I loved the towel creations too. Waiting staff were fantastic in all the restaurants – we opted for Anytime Dining so had different waiters each night on the lower level (deck 2), until the 2nd week, when we were proactively offered an upper level table each night for 8pm for the remainder of our cruise, by one particularly helpful and friendly manager - a nice touch and we were really pleased with the position of the table and our fab waiter, who was prompt, polite and unobtrusive. Drinks wise, I know some people have complained about long waits for drinks but it’s not something I ever saw. Our only criticism was some of our cocktails were a bit hit and miss, through that’s probably down to choosing the wrong thing for our tastes. On one occasion my partner asked for an Old Fashioned, which isn’t on the menu, but should be a staple of any bar tender and it didn’t quite make the mark – I think it’s supposed to be stirred a certain number of times and takes about 5 minutes to prepare in total, but it was just plonked in front of him after a brief swish around the glass, so I put this in our feedback to HAL as that indicates a little more training is required. Dining I honestly cannot understand why anyone could ever complain about the food on this ship. Everything we had, whether it was in room service, the MDR, specialty restaurants or the lido buffet, was all very good quality and the only thing I could ever complain about is too much choice and temptation of yummy food! Ok, there were a few dishes for dinner in MDR that were good rather than great, but it was still presented very well and often it was only one dish out of three courses that was less than we expected – these were very rare though. We mainly ate breakfast and lunch in the lido for maximum flexibility (with my partner getting mid afternoon snacks from the excellent Dive In Grill, which features veggie burgers too!), and then dinner in the MDR. The menu in MDR changed slightly each week so there wasn’t too much repetition, and highlights overall for me where: the yellowfin sole in MDR – absolutely beautifully cooked – you have to try it. Steaks in MDR, pinnacle and tamarind were generously proportioned and cooked to your liking (the steaks in Lido are huge but cooked well done, but apparently still nice). Crepes in the Lido for breakfast – there’s Nutella filling if you ask and I often added sliced bananas from the fruit section. Eggs Florentine with a choice of sides in the Lido was also excellent – the poached egg and other English items station was on the Starboard side though, so it’s easy to miss. The French onion soup in MDR – a daily staple but done so very well. The salad bar in Lido was fantastic, and the food in Tamarind was fab, with very attentive service. Pinnacle was great too but for us, the food was quite rich – I don’t think I could eat it every night, but then again we are fairly health conscious and had eaten so much steak and yummy desserts already, we had gone and ruined it for ourselves. Like a #firstworldproblem, this became one of many joke #cruiseproblems! Drinks & Drinks Prices We aren’t massive drinkers so can only comment on the specialty coffee, few bottles of wine and beer and cocktails we ordered on occasion (I know, party animals we are!). For soft drinks, water is available free of charge (see below for more details), and my partner enjoyed iced tea and various tropical squash type drinks in the Lido. For hot drinks, tea (including PG Tips, decaf and herbal)and brewed coffee was available free of charge in the MDR and Lido (speciality restaurants have free speciality coffee included). We also enjoyed frothy cappuccinos ($2.10 in MDR for dinner, and about $3 in the Explorations Café, including service). They aren’t the same standard as you’d expect from a coffee shop with proper barristers, but they are certainly drinkable. The wine selection was vast but we tried a Californian merlot ($29) in Tamarind which we then asked for in other venues, and they were able to source for us. Beer selection wasn’t vast but my partner enjoyed a Corona with dinner in the MDR – there’s also Peroni and a few other internationals and they aren’t too bad, price wise (about $5.25 p/ bottle). Entertainment Again, I disagree with fellow reviewers who have universally slammed the entertainment on this ship – ok, there were a few nights that didn’t appeal to us, but we had so many books and Game Of Thrones S1-4 to watch on the in-room dvd player (which plays Region 2, UK discs!) that we enjoyed these if we didn’t fancy watching the excellent BB Kings Blue’s act or listened to classical music from the violin / piano quartet. Basically, you could never accuse us of being bored and there was often two things we wanted to see in the evening but only made one of them. Highlights for us included Recycled Percussion (audience participation required and enthusiastically delivered, wear the ear plugs though!), the male comedian in week 2 (Brian something, forgot his name), and my personal favourite, Island Magic, a very humble and charming group of Steel Drummers from Trinidad who put on a moving performance no-one expected. The other shows we weren’t so keen on – the on-board dancers and singers in the broadway shows, which were staged once per week only, thankfully. Very cheesy, weird costuming (where are the feathers and sequins?!) and variable levels of signing talent. I also agree with one reviewer who said the final show of each leg was a bit disappointing – the dancing with the stars contest which we weren’t fussed about at all – perhaps that’s just our age though! I’m gutted we missed both the Filipino and Indonesian crew shows as we were both too tired from long days in port – they show them at 11pm and alternate each week, but we heard good things from other passengers. We didn’t see the piano bar as it was always packed right the way back to the entrance, so that attests to it’s popularity. One thing you can’t miss is the Marriage Game, which Cruise Director Jeremy hosts every week in the Queens Lounge (a poor choice of venue as it’s so popular it really should be in the Showroom at Sea). It sounds cheesy but was hilarious fun and really pulled in the crowds – standing room only which was a shame for the older and frailer passengers who hadn’t got there 30 minutes before. Fellow Passengers I did a lot of research before booking this cruise and knew HAL attracted an older crowd – this didn’t bother me because they are often the most interesting guests to chat to, and have far better manners / respect for others’ peace than most. I can confirm this was the case – a good mix of well-to do Americans, Canadians and Brits – we really were in the minority and I only saw about 5 other couples who looked under 40, and a few multi-generational families too. We tried not to be alarmed by the person who left their zimmer frame outside their door in our corridor each night, so be prepared for this – I’ve seen reviews on here that say it’s a ‘floating nursing home’ – they aren’t off the mark but it didn’t bother us. There were hardly any children onboard and all were very well behaved, when we rarely saw them – they have their own HAL Club ‘quarters’. What I perhaps didn’t quite anticipate was number of very elderly people, or very overweight people, both of whom used mobility scooters or walking aids, and this is where I think the Lido restaurant lets down an otherwise well designed ship. There is simply not enough space for people to move around the restaurant freely, past the queues for the counters (which don’t take long to go down, mind), as there’s only room for two single files – one queueing and one walking past. So, if you have someone with a mobility issue who moves slowly, or a frail person who can’t decide what they want and are hovering in the walking past file, each counter becomes a bottle neck, and that’s not fair on those who have caused it as it’s not really their fault. The tables next to these queues are also subject to people walking closely past or worse, being knocked into, so they really should do away with these altogether as capacity wise, there are plenty of seats away from the walkways. Ports of Call *I won’t bore you with a breakdown of each excursion and port we went to – plenty others have on here. A few things to note – in total we had two scheduled stops at Half Moon Cay, one each week, but we missed the first due to bad weather, so the Captain had to cancel it (it was raining and 7ft waves!). Florida in general (which is close to the Bahamas) was much cooler than I’ve ever experienced it at this time of year – when we landed on the Saturday night in Miami, it was about 16 Degrees C. For the return trip to Fort Lauderdale, it was much cooler and with high winds (so no sunbathing!) on the sea day before we reached port each time, and when we got there. Not sure whether it’s just “this year” that it was like this – but something to be aware of as I was a little sad we didn’t have sunshine and typical Caribbean warmth throughout. *A brief recommendation on excursions – at St Thomas we did HAL’s Two Site Snorkel on a catamaran, which was brilliant – we swam with huge turtles at the first site, a fantastic experience. At Cozumel we arranged a local excursion, the ‘Cozumel Buggies’ – driving around the island in modified VW Beetle buggies and stopping at some interesting sites. Snorkelling was supposed to be included in this but was cancelled due to strong currents, which was a shame. The rest of the trip we wondered around the ports, and tried to avoid the duty free shops which seem to have breed to every island we stopped at. A shame as it would be better to include some shops to help local economies too, and really, I don’t think anyone goes on cruises to buy diamonds and tanzanite and watches at every possible opportunity, surely?! Embarkation / Disembarking This was a nightmare – one thing I would also dispute with other reviewers who have said it was a breeze for them. Flying into Miami from the UK was bad enough – a 3 hour queue to get through Immigration (this is apparently always like this, never again will I cruise from there as it was shocking – no toilets or ability to get water to drink , just shuffling along in an endless zig zag queue all that time!), but then the next day we had the same thing all over again at Fort Lauderdale. It took 3 hours to get through the check in because Ft. Lauderdale had 9 ships in that day and not enough customs officials. Ridiculous. The captain sent us an apology letter a few days letter and gave everyone a glass of champagne with their dinner to apologise, but it wasn’t really his fault. The US let themselves down by not having enough staff! Getting off the ship was equally frustrating for different reasons – we had booked a transfer with HAL to get back to Miami aiport and were told the night before that our disembark time was 08.15 – 08.30. We ordered breakfast for 07.00 – 07.30 and got everything ready just to put on after a quick shower, but just after finishing eating, our colour and number group were called to get off at 07.39! So beware you may need to get ready much earlier than the time they give you. We then got onto our coach having queued for 30 minutes (more shortages of US Customs officials) with our heavy luggage in another zig zag line, and everyone else booked onto the coach eventually got on… apart from one couple, who didn’t show up until 90 minutes later!!! They were being called on the shipped and personally named to get off, but obviously decided to follow their own timetable and didn’t give a fig about the rest of us waiting for them. They didn’t even apologise when they eventually were escorted to the coach (and they were not frail or ‘not the full ticket’ either). Absolutely disgraceful. HAL needs to do a better job of telling people, if you are late for your transfer you make everyone else late too, or they should just let the rest go without them. To that couple – if you are reading this, SHAME ON YOU! Anyway, apart from that, if you’re still reading, and despite the obvious frustrations in getting on / off the ship, I wanted to finish with the other little touches I appreciated compared to Costa: *Availability of drinking water – if you have an empty bottle, any waiter will happily refill it for you with ice and filtered water. This is perfectly safe to drink so you don’t need to pay for bottled water which is not only bad for the environment but completely pointless when you’ve already paid so much to be on this cruise in the first place. You can also fill up water in the Lido drink stations – either the attendant will do it for you or you use the jug they provide. All a la carte restaurants onboard also offer free drinking water and the waters refill your glass regularly. This was a godsend compared to Costa, who won’t allow bottles to be refilled at all, anywhere, and no drinking water is offered at dinner, so you have to buy a bottle every evening. Money grabbing and totally wasteful. *Sanitation stations – antibacterial gel was available everywhere and it’s use encouraged, which is to be applauded. Costa didn’t have this, and didn’t seem to care about the spread of cabin-confining illnesses. Well done HAL. *Deck towels – you can have as many as you like – just help yourself and return them to the used towel bins. On Costa you get one deck towel each in your room, which is not enough to cover even half of a sun lounger. On that note, HAL’s specially provided beach towels to take ashore were enormous, thick and luxurious. *Captain’s announcements – every day our Dutch Captain (Edward van Zaane) gave us an update on the ship’s route, position, current weather and forecast for the next day. We missed both Captain’s Welcome Toasts so I didn’t see him in person, but he sounded both *Silencers on balcony doors – this made a huge difference to the enjoyment of the cruise compared to Costa – who do not have silencers, and unfortunately many of our European neighbours liked to slam their doors shut, even in the early hours, with no consideration for anyone else. Very uncouth behaviour that I don’t think HAL’s typical guests would even contemplate doing, but still, it’s evidence HAL have thought about even these little things. Providing HAL fix the engine problem on this lovely ship, I have no hesitation in recommending them for a relaxing cruise – just be prepared for US Customs queues!   Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2014
I had always wanted to do a cruise, but couldn't find a partner in crime with whom to travel. I started dating a gentleman who was able to go, so after just a few short months of dating, we booked the cruise. I figured it would be ... Read More
I had always wanted to do a cruise, but couldn't find a partner in crime with whom to travel. I started dating a gentleman who was able to go, so after just a few short months of dating, we booked the cruise. I figured it would be an easy way to figure out if he and I were going to make the long haul (spoiler alert: we did not, but I'm glad). The embarkation was easy, though we had upgraded to a balcony after an offer and upon registration, they attempted to give us badges for the couple who had previously reserved the cabin. We were on the ship before we realized it, so we had to trek back. We got it squared away. That was really the only hiccup. The smaller ship was great. If you've never been on a cruise ship at all, even this mid-size ship is big. The stewards were great, the captain was calm and reassuring and the cruise director goofy, but in a fun way. The ports were Charlotte Amalie, Grand Turk, San Juan and the small cruiseline owned island. San Juan was gorgeous, but the time allotted there was short. The cruise itself was great, though I will agree that the clientele on Holland is slightly older. We were among the younger crowd, but still had a great time. There was a storm and large swells so a couple of dinner times were quite iffy for the older folks walking around to get to their tables. My date was seasick for two days, also. The ship and crew itself were really great; we enjoyed the room service several times. They even have a seasick menu to choose from, and that was very helpful for the sick one. I'd definitely cruise with Holland again. I can't imagine a larger ship with that many more people. OH, it was a Dancing with the Stars cruise!! I completely forgot. Now THOSE were excellent shows and I loved seeing Carson Kressley and Kym Johnson nearly every day on ship. They were a hoot. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2014
Hello. What we were looking this time... A last minute deal cruise, with good food, in a relaxing environment. What we got... An incredible good rate, excellent food, and an environment that was maybe too relaxing for what we were used to ... Read More
Hello. What we were looking this time... A last minute deal cruise, with good food, in a relaxing environment. What we got... An incredible good rate, excellent food, and an environment that was maybe too relaxing for what we were used to (for not saying a bit boring). We're not into the frenzy/craziness of Carnival, but we found Holland America to be too passive for us (we're in our 40s). Most of the people on the cruise were more than 60 years old, and they seemed very happy, so I guess that's the population this line targets more (and that's perfectly ok). Based on the cruises that we've taken in the past - and at least for us - Princess seems to be more of a happy medium for us. Not too noisy, neither too boring. Still... For the rate that we got, we had an awesome vacation deal. We'll probably skip Holland America for the next few years, but it wouldn't be surprising to me if it becomes our preferred cruise style when we get a bit older. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2014
Some background, my wife and I are in our early 60's, we have cruised 6 times before this, most on Holland America and we live in the Midwest US. We had planned to take a cruise aboard the Noordam but it's itinerary got cancelled ... Read More
Some background, my wife and I are in our early 60's, we have cruised 6 times before this, most on Holland America and we live in the Midwest US. We had planned to take a cruise aboard the Noordam but it's itinerary got cancelled so we opted to go with this cruise which fortunately included the Explore 4 promotion. Getting to the ship we flew to London and then used trains over several days to get to Venice including a very good trip on the Bernina Express in Switzerland. We arrived in Venice the day of our embarkation so no hotel was needed in Venice. Although I had done a lot of research, I didn't realize that we could have taken a waterbus from the train station to the Piazza Roma and avoided the bridge over the canal, but we only had a small roller bag per person plus a purse or briefcase. We had wisely shipped our big bags to and from the ship using the company Luggage Forward. Using the people mover from the Piazza Roma to the cruise port was fairly easy as their are both escalators and elevators at each station. The cruise port sign says there is a free shuttle to the ship but none are visible so we just walked to terminal 117 where our "hotel" for the next 24 nights awaited us. It's about a half mile from the people mover to the terminal. Check in was a breeze but it usually is when you have a Neptune Suite. Unfortunately I gave my wife a present on a previous cruise of a Neptune Suite and we haven't looked back since as we do enjoy the extra space and larger bed. We got on board about 12:30 and were able to access our cabin right away. Our Explore 4 cards were there as promised as well as a note to make the reservation for the Pinnacle Grill ASAP, which we did. The muster drill was at 3:45 and we left Venice as soon as it was completed. The ship was in very good condition throughout our cruise except they turned the water off overnight twice during our cruise, each time we were informed it would happen and it didn't really affect us, but that is the first time I've heard of it being done. Our cabin, 7069, is mid-ship starboard side and was very comfortable, we both like our room cooler than most and it did a fine job. The weather on our cruise was fantastic for that time of year and we were able to use our veranda most days. The Manhattan dining room was hit and miss, most days we had good experiences, but there were two days that unfortunately stand out because the service was so sub par it wasn't funny. Both times we spoke to the maitre d and the next day things were better. We had two dinners in the Pinnacle Grill and both times were excellent. Our stateroom attendants, Yudi and Tama were fantastic, always knowing when we needed something and making up our room when needed. They truly are a good team despite the sheer number of rooms they must service. We only attended a few shows, and they were fine, most nights we were so tired from our wandering off the ship that we just went to bed. We did experience a couple of things that truly surprised me, in the Ocean Bar we always had to wait and wait for a server to come take our order, we finally quit going there and instead when to the Explorer's lounge on Deck 2, there we met a bar server, Erwin who was fantastic and we made sure others knew about him. The other thing was the Silk Den, this could be a great place to get away from it all, but the few times we tried, we either didn't get served or were told we couldn't stay because another function was going to use the place. Why have it if you are going to close it all the time, we never went again. Service in the Lido was fine and food always hot. Ports of Call: We had to miss Katakalon, Greece due to weather Athens we did a DIY tour and saw all the usual tourist sites Istanbul we also did stuff on our own, the port did have a shuttle to the Grand Bazaar entrance for $10/round trip, we used it once and it was great Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece was a tender port, since we had walked ourselves quite a bit in Athens and Istanbul, we took it easy here Kusadasi, Turkey, here we used a private tour which took us to Ephesus and several other tourist sites and included a very good country house lunch Thira, Santorini, Greece, we took the boat from the pier to Oia (via a bus connection) and then the bus back to the port, you are able to book this on the pier. Argostoli, Greece, another small port where we only walked around town Venice, Italy (our cruise was really two back-to-back ones), here we had a day and a half. We bought 36 hour vaperetto passes and used them quite a bit seeing the sites of Venice, it all worked well Dubrovnik, Croatia, the local authorities had a shuttle bus to the Pile Gate for $16/person round trip, taxis were also available for 10 Euro per car load each way, we walked the wall and then walked through town Kotor, Montenegro, small but very pretty town and very friendly, plus the sailaway was awesome. Corfu, Greece, the port had a free shuttle to and from the cruise terminal, there is another shuttle which will take you to the old town area of Corfu for $16/round trip Naples, Italy, we visited Herculaneum and did it on our own, very easy Rome, Italy, well actually the port is Civitavecchia and Rome is a train ride away. We lucked out and things worked exactly as expected so we had a long day in Rome but saw a lot of things. We had to skip Livorno due to weather and very high winds, so did other ships scheduled to dock there that day. Monte Carlo, we took the train to Nice for the day Marseille, France, walked around and went up to the Notre Dame de la Garda, great views from up there down to the actual town. And finally Barcelona where we spent the first night there on board. First day we did Sagrada Familia and the day we got off the ship we went to Montserrat, unfortunately, the boys choir was not singing that day We then used trains over several days to return to London and flew home. Hope this helps a bit.   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
Our experience with HAL pre-cruise was fantastic: I called up to fix a name change a couple weeks before we left, all worried-like cause I'm used to dealing with airlines. Didn't have to wait on hold for long - they said ... Read More
Our experience with HAL pre-cruise was fantastic: I called up to fix a name change a couple weeks before we left, all worried-like cause I'm used to dealing with airlines. Didn't have to wait on hold for long - they said they'd fix it and had no trouble doing so, and by the way, did I know that the price of our cabin had gone down like 50%? I said, yes I definitely did, but I didn't think that would change anything, given we'd already paid for it and were past the ability to get a refund? HAL *preemptively* told me I should have our travel agent give them a call and see what they could do. Long story short, we got a bunch of extra cruise credit, and an upgrade from the cheapest inside cabin to one of the nicer verandahs. So I was pretty excited to see that - I'd been on one shorter cruise, but in a cheap inside cabin much like the one we expected to be in this time. When we arrived, the line was pretty long, so I was expecting to be in line for hours, like the one previous cruise I'd been on (with Carnival, who after this much better experience, I'll never use again). But nope, despite quite a long line, we were on-board about half an hour later. Also unlike Carnival, as soon as we got on board, we were allowed to go right to our room and drop off our carry-ons. Embarkation was super smooth. Our room was indeed quite nice - felt plenty spacious, and having a balcony was great. The balcony was pretty small, pretty much just big enough for the two of us, and a personal table and chair each, but it was still great sitting outside. The bed was quite comfortable, too, though I wasn't a huge fan of the blankets or pillows (I was happy I brought a pillow from home; I'm picky). The room was never noisy, and we only rarely felt the movement of the ship. We also loved having a proper bathtub, and the bathroom was spacious enough (much moreso than several of the hotels we stayed at!). The only major complaint I had about the room was that their air filtration system left the air *extremely* dry. I don't know if there was something wrong with it in our room, or if it's always like that, but we definitely felt it in our lips and in our throats. I was glad we had a balcony for that reason alone: several times we just had to open the door to get some real air, even though the note told us not to (to not waste on AC electricity). Service was *amazing*. We felt like kings the whole time we were there - not only did the staff go out of the way to give us basically anything we asked for, we got the impression like they actually *liked* their jobs, and enjoyed seeing their passengers happy, which seems somewhat unusual in the service industry in general. By midway through, we started looking forward in particular to seeing what crazy elaborate things the room attendants would fashion our new towels into (our favorite was monkeys hanging off the wall). One time I asked if we could get a slice of cheesecake for my wife's birthday, and after dinner, they brought us a whole cheesecake for free, which I was *not* expecting (we had to give some of it away to people at tables around us. It was pretty big.) We also tried to order a dish not off the menu once (my wife was sad that we missed a particular dish the second night, because we went to an alternative restaurant), and they were extremely apologetic in telling us that we had to order it a day in advance, and made absolutely sure we got it later in the cruise. (They actually went so far as to call our room when we got back from dinner that day, just to make completely sure we were satisfied. Which we totally were.) As for the food, which was one thing we were definitely looking forward to from a cruise: The main dining room was amazing. It honestly felt like we were eating hundred-dollar meals every night. The service was just as great as everywhere else on the ship, they never pushed us to buy wine or anything, food came as quickly as you would expect, the variety was great, everything looked super-swanky, and there were only a couple dishes I wasn't so impressed by the deliciousness of (one seafood appetizer that really needed some citrus, and a mac & cheese that was supposedly all fancy, but just tasted like boring mac & cheese. Everything else we ate there the whole trip - appetizers, soups, salads, mains - was all fantastic... but not the desserts. The desserts in the main dining hall looked and tasted like they came from the Lido; they were quite consistently dry and bland. The only good dessert we ate in the main dining room was the night of the previously-mentioned cheesecake (which was excellent), presumably because it was made special-order for us. Tamarind was also absolutely fantastic and completely worth it for both lunch and dinner - and we live in California, which has no shortage of excellent pan-Asian restaurants. Everything there was great, *including* the desserts, and also including a neverending supply of a particularly tasty hot green tea that we wished we could bring home with us. We didn't eat at the regular Pinnacle, but we did try Le Cirque, which was just amazing, and I would say, yes, worth it. The meat there, we agreed, was by far the best meat we'd ever had in our life, and the rest of the food was fun too. I was kind of sad about the wine, though - I splurged on what I thought would be a wine *pairing*. What I actually got were just the same 3 wines they give to everyone who orders the wine special, that were pretty good wines but didn't really go with what I ordered. Was still a good price, though (20 bucks for 3 decent-sized pours of 3 respectable wines.) Service in both the main dining hall and the alternative restaurants was always impeccable. We opted for "as you wish" hours, never made reservations in advance, went at all hours, from right when they opened to right when they were closing, and everything in between, and only a couple times were we told we'd have to wait more than about 1 minute. Both of those times, they quoted us a wait of about 10 minutes... and then about one minute later, said a table was ready. We also learned to love the lunches at the poolside burger place - they were the sort of burgers and hot dogs you would get for like 12 bucks at a burger-specialty restaurant. We frequented it often after we realized its quality. The pizza at the other poolside place, on the other hand, was pretty much your average boring greasy pizza. We didn't go there much. The food in the Lido was... not very good. I was surprised, with everything else being of such high quality. The food in the Lido, for the most part, *looked* really nice, but tasted kind of off, and just generally old. I did discover the second day that they made a pretty kick-butt eggs benedict - so then I generalized that to mean "the lunch is garbage, but the breakfasts are good", and the next day went and got some crepes and a breakfast sandwich. Nope: the rest of the Lido's breakfast food was crap, too. But the eggs benedict is great! So I ate a lot of eggs benedict for breakfast. (Except a couple days where the main dining hall was open for breakfast, which was a treat: the main dining hall does breakfast just as well as everything else, albeit not nearly so fancy.) I also tried the room service food a couple times, just because it wouldn't be a complete food review if I hadn't. The room service food was... edible. I wouldn't actively avoid it, unlike the lunch at Lido, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it, either - it was pretty bland. There's so much good food around the ship all the time, that there should never be a reason to need bland room service food. But if you need a sandwich in the middle of the night - you can get one, and it will be... sandwichy. Speaking of food around the ship all the time - every few days they threw a pre-dinner party out by the aft pool, celebrating the local cuisine. The food there was obviously significantly less *fancy* than the main dining hall, but was also consistently of extremely high quality. (Ironically, we spent all day in Istanbul looking for good Turkish food, didn't find any, and depressed, came back to the ship... to find the first of these events, at which we had the best Turkish food we found all trip.) We also tried a good handful of their cocktails over the course of the trip, and I will say: they have some great cocktails. I loved that a number of them featured the local liquors, too. Mixed drinks were even surprisingly a totally reasonable price - 9 bucks a glass, except one drink each day is a dollar off, and from 4-5 and from 10-11 PM, there's a bar serving drinks 2-for-1. I'm used to fancy mixed drinks like that being 10-12 bucks in the city, so I thought they'd be even pricier on a cruise ship, but nope! We didn't really take part in any of the events - not really why we were there - though we passed by various musicians on the way to other things, and they were clearly talented (especially the jazz/big band band and the classical duo.) We did take advantage of the pool on a number of occasions, and I will say, I was a little disappointed in it: the pools are rather small, the hot tubs were more like slightly-warm tubs, and the water was just ludicrously chlorinated, which diminished the enjoyment of it somewhat (though we still used it several times). With one exception, I was very happy with their ability to handle getting us off the ship at ports to do our own things. My only previous experience with cruising, the Carnival cruise to Cabo in Mexico, their tender situation was a complete disaster - there was just an enormous line (more like a mob) of people trying to board tenders, very slowly. This cruise, Holland America had everything set up very orderly: you went down, got a number, then they called your number and you got in a much smaller, much more orderly line to get on a boat. It never took very long at all. And leaving the ship when it was docked basically just meant walking right off the ship. It was great! That is, it was great except for Istanbul, where everyone lined up to get off the ship, and then stood in an increasingly stuffy, increasingly chaotic line for about 2 hours, without any clear idea of what was going on for most of that time. Eventually we heard there was some kind of awful mixup with the port controller, who didn't sound very competent, so it probably wasn't the ship's fault, but I was still rather annoyed that they a. didn't tell everyone to stop thinking we were about to be able to leave any minute and to go back to their rooms, and b. we didn't get any extra time in Istanbul or anything other than an apology as a result. I was also extremely *not* impressed with the one official ship-run tour we took (Olympia). It wasn't even scheduled to leave until an hour after we docked, but of course it was like half an hour late leaving, because getting thousands of people out of a ship and onto the same neverending stream of busses takes forever. Then of course, with a whole bus full of people, *one* of them is going to decide to hold everyone up by being half an hour late and not even apologize for it, so in the end, we didn't even see all of Olympia, and got absolutely zero time to explore Katakolon. Not to mention our tour guide spent maybe 20% of the time telling us about what we were actually looking at, and the other 80% talking about general facts about Greece that we could easily have looked up on wikipedia if we'd had internet. And for that, we spent about twice as much as an independent tour would have been. HAL was always pushing official shore excursions on us, but nope - never doing that again. Our other group tour, a semi-private tour of Ephesus that we arranged ahead of time on these forums, was just *so* much better in every way, as well as so much cheaper. Which, I totally recommend doing that, especially for Ephesus. Look for Fatma Acar of Helliantus Anadolu Tours! Even though they did say they weren't going to make us go to a carpet weaving demonstration, and then technically did. They didn't make us go *in* the demonstration, though, and while waiting outside, I got some pretty tasty apple tea. So I couldn't complain too much. I got the impression they'd have let us skip it if *everyone* had complained, too - of course, one person out of the 8 of us was interested, so there we went. The rest of the ports we just did on our own: Istanbul was actually kinda lame. Full of people trying to sell you crap and in some cases literally stepping in your way if you tell them no thanks. The Hagia Sophia was pretty impressive, as were the cisterns, but it wasn't nearly as interesting a city as I thought it would be. Athens was *totally* as interesting a city as I thought it was going to be, and the Acropolis just as impressive. I wished we'd had more time there. The cruise docks well outside the city, but in addition to the not-terribly-convenient subway we were originally planning on taking, there are 10 euro round-trip tour busses pretty much right outside the dock, that take you to and from the Acropolis area. Worth it! Mitilini was pretty boring - there wasn't really much to do except eat at totally overpriced, clearly touristy restaurants. In retrospect, we should have made arrangements to leave the town on that one. Well, boring except for all the graffiti advertising the presence of neonazi activity (by virtue of requesting that said activity be ceased. You don't put up graffiti saying something should stop unless it's currently happening. We also saw one biker who we were pretty sure was involved in said activity. Not the most pleasant.) Argostoli, by contrast, was just as quiet a place, and we thought we'd be just as unimpressed, but it's *so* much nicer. It actually felt like a little Greek island, rather than like a tourist parody of one. Not much to do there either - except walk down the ocean path looking at all the sea life that you could totally see because the water was so clear, and look into all the little shops that were selling actual local stuff, *not* only cheap junk probably made in China. Santorini was just as impressive a view as everyone says. I was definitely happy we got to cross that one off the list. I was also glad, in retrospect, having walked *down* the path, that I didn't decide to save 7 euros by also walking up it. Don't eat in a place with a view, though! Everything is like 40% more expensive for the same food if you can see the ocean. See the ocean from the innumerable bench vistas not part of a restaurant. Venice, there would not have been *nearly* enough time to see if we hadn't stayed a couple nights before and a couple nights after. I would have been pretty disappointed, which is why we did that. The view on the way out is totally worth it, though, just as I'd heard. Disembarkation was also amazing compared to the chaos and lateness of the (Carnival) disembarkation I'd previously experienced. They send out a survey asking when you want to disembark - if you made your own arrangements to your next destination, don't mind leaving before 7:15, and can carry all your own luggage, you have the option of literally just walking off the ship by yourself any time you like (as long as it's before 7:15). We did that, and it was just so much more relaxing. No line at all. So - not perfect, but quite good overall. I certainly intend to frequent HAL again in the future, and next time, we'll know what to do and what to skip. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
This was our fourth HAL cruise, all which have been in the Mediterranean, and this itinerary was almost identical to a cruise we did in 2010, with a few different ports. Our first sailing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, we found the ship familiar ... Read More
This was our fourth HAL cruise, all which have been in the Mediterranean, and this itinerary was almost identical to a cruise we did in 2010, with a few different ports. Our first sailing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, we found the ship familiar as we have sailed the Noordam, Eurodam and Westerdam on prior sailings. We were a party of four, with mom and sister sailing for the first time with us. My sister's luggage was delayed/lost and the Customer service folks on the NA were fabulous in taking over the attempts to track down the luggage (both the airlines, and our trip insurance people had not been extremely helpful in the 2 days prior to the cruise) Embarkation was the longest we have ever endured, and compared to our prior sailing from Venice, we were a bit surprised with the crowds and the wait. We were allowed access to our room immediately, however, and got settled in. Unfortunately we were on board too late to partake in the HAL Meet and Greet in the Digital Workshop, but we managed to swing by our Roll Call meeting during sailaway. We met our cabin stewards Anees and Dody, and they quickly followed through on our request for additional pillows and remained attentive and cheerful for the remainder of our cruise. We did however have to keep asking for a new laundry bag, and are unsure if this is a new policy for HAL. Our dining steward Yopi was marvelous. Our dining experience in the MDR was good, but not exceptional. The beef dishes early in the cruise were lacking. I did order the duck twice when it was offered on the menu, and it WAS exceptional! The chilled fruit soups are what I live for, and they did not disappoint. Our wine steward was a little pushy, and grumpy and we were not inclined to purchase wine by the bottle (I didn't drink that much this cruise and none of the wines really appealed to me anyway) We did dine in the Lido for dinner several times as well. My mom went back and forth, first saying she thought Lido food was better, then MDR was better. Coffee was sorely lacking in Lido, as expected, but better in MDR. In all, dining experience in MDR was typical. The only time I wasn't impressed with the menu selection was on the International night. Entertainment wise, the BB King Blues Band was phenomenal. Unfortunately they were performing so many times, that their sets became extremely routine, so after a few days it was repeated. Female vocalist was amazing, and the musicianship of all tremendous. The Piano bar was a huge, huge disappointment. Were were spoiled rotten on our first cruise on the Noordam in 2008 with our Piano bar entertainer, and none have been as good as him. We did dance at Northern Lights one night, until they changed the music over to modern stuff I don't like! We peeked in on a few of the shows, but nothing appealed to us. Unfortunately, my mother got a URI, which was aggrevated by the air handling system onboard the ship, as she was worse at night in the cabin. Thinking it was an allergic reaction (she has chemically induced asthma) to detergent, we had them change out the linens and wash in plain water. Customer service gave us a bottle of wine and an apology note. Since none of us really wanted the wine, we returned it with a 'thank you but no thanks, can we have OBC instead?" which they did grant. 5 days later I came down with URI, and many, many folks onboard did as well, as coughing was heard everywhere by the end of the cruise. We did do a few spa services; manicure for me, pedi for sister, relaxation package for mom and DH got a massage which was a very good deep tissue sports massage. We did our own excursions at the ports of call, as we have traveled to most of them before. Unfortunately, due to high winds, we were not able to visit Lesvos as anchoring and tendering would not be safe. This was of course, disappointing, as this was one of the two different ports that DH and I had not visited. However, we love this itinerary and love Venice and Istanbul, and we felt we got a lot out of the cruise in general.   Read Less
Sail Date: December 2013
The good: 1) A lot of public room to move around in. Even in the bars/lounges things weren't squashed together, everything always felt roomy, even on sea days. Found several remote places with loungers and no one else around, some on ... Read More
The good: 1) A lot of public room to move around in. Even in the bars/lounges things weren't squashed together, everything always felt roomy, even on sea days. Found several remote places with loungers and no one else around, some on very high levels you could only take stairs to reach. 2) Food quality was pretty high. 3) Room stewards were good and friendly. The bad 1) Embarkation. Showed at 11:15, boarded a bit before 1. Long wait, quick once my number was called. After dumping bags in room, went to MDR for lunch to avoid the melee the buffet is on embark day, showed at 1:05 and was refused seating at MDR (stopped at 1). they should extend seating to 2. Entering the scrum of buffet for embark lunch really started cruise off poorly for me. 2) Dining/waiter service. Some decent, some poor. Got really annoyed that waiters generally messed up my breakfast orders which weren't too difficult. I think language barrier was main issue. Refills were often late on water, coffee, and pina colodas at unlimited pina colda event (at the beginning we had to flag waiters down, and they weren't busy, after things settled, they kept us nice). MDR management was good at being friendly, but service should have and could have been better. 3) Limited food availability. Buffet had short hours, MDR had short seating hours for breakfast/lunch. Limited room service 24/7 doesn't replace an open buffet for a quick bite in off hours. Lunch menu at MDR was very limited. Wish I knew/things to know 1) 2 3 prong 110 volt outlets by desk (also 2 euro outlets), 1 shaver outlet in bathroom. Taking room card out of electric input slot kills outlet juice (like charging your phone), bring some other worthless plastic card to use there instead of room card. 2) Went with drinkers who got drink packages, they drink a lot, did not get value IMO. Skip unlimited, buy as you like, probably better deal. Oh, and unlimited ship drinks do not extend to private island they own and run, which offended those who bought. Stay on the ship and drink free from package, or go to beach and pay HAL more for drinks. Bad policy by HAL. 3) MNF, TNF and SNF and one game for each Sunday time slot were shown in rooms and at sports/casino bar. Summary Nice cruise, the overwhelmingly good service I expected existed with buffet servers and room stewards, lacked in most other dining service though. Limited food availability was a negative. Language barrier existed very strongly, worst of all cruises I have been on by far. Lots of room to move around and enjoy on ship. Probably nice for transatlantic interior cabins, with all that public space. I would cruise the NA again, and HAL, knowing the issues, for the right itinerary/value, but not an overwhelming favorite. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2013
This is my third time cruising with HAL. The other two times were on the Oosterdam. The ships are close to being the same and the cabins are identical. Holland has very spacious cabins and my wife and I enjoy the double sink, two showers, ... Read More
This is my third time cruising with HAL. The other two times were on the Oosterdam. The ships are close to being the same and the cabins are identical. Holland has very spacious cabins and my wife and I enjoy the double sink, two showers, and the wider balcony of the Superior state room than on another cruise line. The cabin stewards on the Nieuw Amsterdam were outstanding more so than any other cruise. They were readily available and remembered our standard request without any reminders. The food on the N. Amsterdam was not in my opinion up to the variety and taste of the Oosterdam nor the Golden Princess on Princess. The Pinnacle Grill on the N. Amsterdam food was not that much better than the main dining room. The Crown Grill on the Golden Princess was far superior. The Tamarind on the N. Amsterdam was worth the extra cost and in my opinion a far greater value than the Pinnacle Grill. I travel with a service dog and there were many miscommunication problems between the N. Amsterdam guest service staff and their gangway security on whether or not my service dog and I was cleared to disembark for our excursions. One time the delay impacted the departure of the excursion and inconvenienced the other guests. Holland America Line needs to change their smoking policy. I was forced off my balcony several times because of cigarette smoke from neighboring balconies. I paid for the use of my balcony like my neighbors, but my non-smoking did not restrict their full usage of their balcony. My suggestion to HAL was to pick the Starboard side for Smoking (they both start with S) and the Port side non-smoking. This way both types can be served. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2013
We are a couple in our late 60's and have cruised with other lines (NCL, Carnival, Azamara, Celebrity, Princess). Our first trip on HAL was very good. We left Stewart Airport on Oct. 4 to arrive in Barcelona a day earlier than ... Read More
We are a couple in our late 60's and have cruised with other lines (NCL, Carnival, Azamara, Celebrity, Princess). Our first trip on HAL was very good. We left Stewart Airport on Oct. 4 to arrive in Barcelona a day earlier than departure. It was quite stressful as our flight was delayed and we weren't sure if we would make our connecting flight in PHL. With just minutes to spare we made the flight....so much for paying extra for early embarkation on US Air. After the 8 hour overnight flight, we arrived in Barcelona at 8:00 am. I arranged for Spain Day Tours to meet us at the airport and then go on a four hour tour of Barcelona. Felix met us and the tour was outstanding. My husband even got to see the "football" stadium. He, then, took us to the Hotel Jazz after showing us some restaurants nearby which we could walk to. Tired and hungry, we took our luggage to the room. It was small, but clean and good for one night. We went to Cuidad Global (sp.) for tapas. Hectic place, very busy; but good tapas. Sunday, we connected with two ladies we met through Cruise Critic and shared a taxi to the port. We arrived at about 11, and were on the ship about 45 minutes later....(separate line for suite passengers). We went to Lido for our first of many trips there. Our cabin was ready about 12:30. We chose cabin # 7066, and were very happy with the choice. I have a more detailed description in the cabin section. We unpacked and went exploring. The Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship (3 yrs. old). It is elegant without being pretentious. We went to muster drill on Promenade deck and our cruise was under way. We welcomed our first sea day, as the jet lag was quite severe. Our first port was Palermo, Sicily. Since we had never been to Sicily previously, we opted to take a HAL excursion, Panoramic Palermo. The excursion was good, but as with all HAL excursions, it was a bit expensive. Our next ports were Naples,(a substitute for Tunis), Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence), and Toulon, France. After very port intensive days we returned to Barcelona. Here, we were able to stay on the ship or disembark any time without going through customs, etc. We went to Las Ramblas, shopped and had lunch (tapas), of course and back to the ship for muster drill and to begin our transatlantic crossing. Spain ports were next....Cartagena, Malaga, and Cadiz. All were beautiful and we are anxious to return there some day. One more stop in Ponta Delgada before seven sea days to FLL. Food - This is a subjective topic, so I will say that we went to all dining venues on the ship with the exception of the Le Cirque dinner. Our favorites were the Cellar Master's dinner, Tamarind, Pinnacle Grill, Main Dining room, and Lido (in that order). I feel that the hours for meals was too short. Entertainment - Another subjective area. Our opinion...Brett Cave and Cantare were very good. Others tried, but I feel missed the mark. Activities - It is my opinion, that the activities suffered because of the cruise director, Dave. He really was an announcer, not a participant. I did participate in quite a few activities....trivia, culinary demonstrations, star gazing lectures, flower arranging, chef wars, Bingo, and of course, the casino. The staff there was quite personable....most especially, Jennifer and Giancarlo. Suite amenities - Complimentary laundry, dry cleaning, pressing (used three times) and all returned within 24 hours. Neptune Lounge and concierges, Odessa and Rommel, were wonderful. We never had to go to the front desk for anything, We did have an incident with painting on the balconies. The crew went through our cabin and left paint on the sofa which went unnoticed. The smell was overwhelming. It was supposedly cleaned off after we complained, but the smell lingered. My husband wiped the sofa with plain water and it got somewhat better. I must say that the concierges were outraged at what had occurred, but we received not even an apology from HAL. After one more incident which I will not mention here, HAL did send us an apology note with "goodies". We arranged Luggage direct and after our JetBlue flight from FLL to SWF was delayed 4 hours, the luggage did arrive at SWF as arranged. In conclusion, our first experience on HAL was a positive one. We do plan to sail with them again. If you have any specific questions, I will be more than happy to respond as honestly as I can. tjld123@aol.com   Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
Pros - great itinerary with varied ports of call - staff was excellent - the ship was in excellent condition and well maintained except for 1 of the hot tubs that was constantly needing attention, not much of a concern as we don't ... Read More
Pros - great itinerary with varied ports of call - staff was excellent - the ship was in excellent condition and well maintained except for 1 of the hot tubs that was constantly needing attention, not much of a concern as we don't use hot tubs - lots of activities on board, but got repetitive after the 6th day, could use some more variety - Pinnacle Grill was excellent, food was 5 star - Cons - coffee was terrible, tasted like it was burnt, heard the same complaint from other passengers. The coffee in the Explorers cafe was not any better and to make matters worse HAL charged for any purchases in this on board cafe. So had to wait to get off the ship to have a good cup of coffee. - Too many extra charges on board, coffee, Internet, yoga, Pilates etc all of these should be included - the constant harassment to have your picture taken in order to charge for over priced portraits. - the endless HAL advertising they put in your mail everyday got to be annoying by the end - have been on other HAL cruises and found the food in the main dining room not up to the standard of those previous cruises - not a great selection of wine too much American and Australian, when I am traveling would really love to taste more of the local wines - price of the wine way over priced $16 for a glass in the MD, we bought local wine from our port of calls and enjoyed those instead of purchasing on board Read Less
Sail Date: May 2013
This was our first cruise, and we chose it mainly because of the choice of such varied destinations, and its 12 day length.Behind our thinking was the view that if we decided cruising really wasn't for us, we wouldn't be stuck on ... Read More
This was our first cruise, and we chose it mainly because of the choice of such varied destinations, and its 12 day length.Behind our thinking was the view that if we decided cruising really wasn't for us, we wouldn't be stuck on there for longer than 12 days We also got to see a little of France, Greece, Croatia, Sicily, and Italy. The choice proved to be just perfect. Embarkation: This ran smooth, and the wait was not too long. But the disembarkation process impressed me the most. Everything in that aspect was great from the start.Cabin:We chose the larger inside cabin mainly because of its size, and only an extra $150pp cost. It was a large inside, double that of the usual one, and even larger than the verandah. It was a great position in the centre of the ship, and very quiet. I suppose the only downside was no window, but we mainly only used it to shower and sleep. The bed was very comfy, and I like the fact you could adjust your air-conditioning to suit your own needs.Dining: We chose "Open Seating"as we were there on our own, and it gave us a chance to meet and chat with the other guests.The meals in the main dining room were very nice. But my husband said my fruit crumble was much better. While I like the food, after 12 days I was hanging out for some home cooking. The service of the waiters was great. I would recommend the "Hi-Tea" in the main dining room each afternoon, only trouble is we were often on a tour or off shore. We chose the Lido several times for breakfast. This was great because it was buffet style, and you didn't have to wait for the waiter, which was beneficial when you had to get away early for a cruise. I like to get there early for lunch and dinner, otherwise it can get rather crowded. Some of the staff serving in the Lido weren't quite as friendly, but after hearing how some of the guests spoke to them, I can sometimes see why. Entertainment: This was a hi-light for me especially, I looked forward to it every night in the Showroom.. Just loved Salavatore Hasard, and the quartet Cantare, with one or the tenors having an exceptional stand out voice. They all received standing ovations. My husband also found the comedian really tickled his funnybone. Also not to be missed was the violin and piano duo "Adagio", who we watch several times, my husband a violinist, really appreciated the skillsShore Excursions: Can't comment on the Holland America organised ones, as we found them very expensive. Instead we chose Cruising Excursions,a private company that gave us 3 tours for the price of their one. Their excursions may be a little shorter in time, but we were very pleased. Also the transfer costs charged by Holland America were very steep. e.g. They charged $16 each way for a transfer to Corfu, a distance we walked in less than 15 minutes. We also chose to do the same returning from Dubrovnik, about a 45 minute walk, but we got to see sights along the way. We shared a taxi with another couple to get there at a cost of $5 a couple.Service: This was overall excellent. The staff work long hours, 7 days a week, and do a fantastic job. My cabin attendants Adet and Ari were exceptional. The cleaning staff were constantly cleaning the ship. The biggest downside with the service is that you couldn't iron your clothes, and there was no facility provided. If aren't allowed to have one in your room, facilities need to be there. Of course they offer laundry and ironing service, but at a cost. Sometimes you have to wear your clean clothes creased. Value: Please watch out for all the extra charges we found very high. They are constantly taking your photo,(I'm sure if they charged a lot less they would sell a lot more, How about a free first up photo when you get on board?)I chose a bottle of "Sparkling Water"on the 1st night that I thought was free. It tasted like soda water and was awful. $3.75 to send a postcard from Italy to Australia,( a lot when your sending several, try posting off shore) I'm sure they must charge handling fees. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2013
I really enjoyed myself but think i liked the hal smaller ships better. As usual loved the wrap around promenade deck. Enjoyed walking around it and relaxing on the well padded loungers shaded by the deck above when i had too much sun. ... Read More
I really enjoyed myself but think i liked the hal smaller ships better. As usual loved the wrap around promenade deck. Enjoyed walking around it and relaxing on the well padded loungers shaded by the deck above when i had too much sun. Loved my balcony room. Good size nice tub and loved the little shelves in the closet to put my things on - i dont like dressing up on vacation so as usual loved being able to order off the dinner menu and eat on my balcony, sometimes in a tshirt gown hehe. Food was delicious, filet mignon one night, beef wellington another prime rib etc. My husband thought the lamb and fish were outstanding. But dont miss the buffet the night they do the dutch/german food. The enormous apple pie was amazing.Delicious cheeses and salads and i went to the other side and they had a fabulous beef sirloin. I would also go to the buffet for cheese plates and fruits. Lunch was very good, but often i would just go the little sandwich place since they were so good. Very good turkey burgers, salmon burgers and fries. Don,t miss the international flavours section for lunch. Had excellent japanese, indonesian and indian food. The mexican and italian sections were very popular. Breakfasts as usual excellent. Whatever shall i do without my eggs benedict bar, hehe. Juices fruits bacon and oatmeal very good. I am not fond of waffles but they smelled so good and had such interesting toppings i tried them and got hooked they were so good.as usual enjoyed the high teas. My favorite happened on the first sea day. Amazing savories and custard eclairs. Desert night was fun.. Such pretty presentation wish i had taken pictures. The chocolate cake, candied apples and chocolate dipped fruit were outstanding . Staff as usual were so sweet. They really go out of their way to help you. Have to say hals staff are the best. As usual i loved the thallosotherapy pool spent a lot of time there. Their ceramic beds looking out over the ocean with little fountains and aromatherapy in the steam rooms. Love the rain shower. As usual really enjoyed the explorations cafe and library. Read several books and enjoyed the paperback exchange with other cruisers. Love the cushy chairs, beautiful views and free pastries. I didnt have to go to shows alone this time since my husband actually really enjoyed the celtic singers and the comic man who had worked for a circus. I wish they would have more comics and maybe a blues band. I got a bit burnt at st martin. Couldnt resist orient bay and played in the waves all day. Wore my husband out shopping in san juan wish i had shopped in st martin more though. As usual adored half moon cay. I snagged a hammock and totally enjoyed looking at the crystal clear water and perfect beach. Great barbecue lunch as usual. Really nice cruise, just think i like the smaller hal ships better. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2013
This is our 5th cruise together as a couple and our favorite cruise lines are still Princess & HAL. The companies are more similar than different, and the differences are a tug of war when deciding which line we'll cruise next: on ... Read More
This is our 5th cruise together as a couple and our favorite cruise lines are still Princess & HAL. The companies are more similar than different, and the differences are a tug of war when deciding which line we'll cruise next: on HAL we love the Thalassotherapy pool, awesome happy crew, and dining that's a notch above. Princess has better laid out ships that never seem crowded despite having more passengers, atriums that are more alive and fun, and more onboard activities like Movies Under the Stars. We just finished a pretty good 7 day Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Grand Turk was cancelled, which was fine with us since we've been there and were just planning on a day at the beach. The cancellation meant an extra sea day, and 12 hours in San Juan, both major plusses. We did hiking excursions in both San Juan and St. Marten. Both EXCELLENT tours but EXHAUSTING (HAL should really stress the physical nature of these hiking trips because some of the older folks had a very difficult time.) Half Moon Cay was beautiful. The Nieuw Amsterdam is still beautiful and sparkling, even with a dry dock coming up in three weeks. The food was excellent all around, and our outside 'spa' cabin was HUGE with a HUGE window overlooking the ship's bow. The only drawback, albeit a major one, was that this ship was CROWDED! The 200 additional passengers compared to our cruise on the Vista Class Westerdam were felt more often than not. We picked the Nieuw because it was HAL's newest and we wanted to experience all the new Signature Class bells and whistles. What we found were those bells and whistles are not worth the 200 extra passengers packed into the exact same amount of public space as the Vista class (Tamarind and Silk Den were always empty so they don't count.) Embarkation and Disembarkation were slow and disorganized, our beloved Thalasso pool and Thermal Suite were always crowded, there were actually chair hogs in the Cabana Club since the Cabanas were booked by many families and there weren't enough lounge chairs to go around! The Cabana Club stewards were excellent, and it was very convenient to have a place to drop our things. But it was open from 9 AM to 5 PM and the hours were enforced, which limited the daily amount of time we could use it, especially when in port. There was no 'light breakfast' as advertised, and the 'daily setup' of fruit and water got pretty sad as they day warmed up. In general it seemed like there were people everywhere on this ship, with no quiet places to get away from it all (i.e. combining a library and the Crow's Nest lounge with a nightly guitarist is a bad idea), which is why our overall rating is a 3. From now on we'll stick to HAL's smaller ships Read Less
Sail Date: April 2013
We started our 7day eastern Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam April 7th. The four of us were looking forward to a comfortable relaxing week as we had enjoyed in the past with Holland America. Embarkation took about 45 minutes as ... Read More
We started our 7day eastern Caribbean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam April 7th. The four of us were looking forward to a comfortable relaxing week as we had enjoyed in the past with Holland America. Embarkation took about 45 minutes as we checked our room couples. Our dining was confused. We had been wait listed for early dining. But received late dining. Each couple on a different floor of dining room Obviously a mistake. So right up to dining. Quite a long line. With many unhappy faces leaving podium Our friend has PD and we told maitre'd this is reason we needed early dining. Let alone. On the same floor. We stood there amazed as he said there was nothing he could do for us. We've had these problems before and they usually fix it right away. He was adamant and quite condescending. Telling us. We could dine in Lido at buffet or make reservations in their pay restaurants if available. I insisted to be wait-listed for early seating for my friends illness. We left podium bewildered and very disappointed, hoping for a change Next to our rooms! We had paid to upgrade to category "K". Large stateroom to have little extra room and sofa to watch tv from. We opened the door. And another disappointment! Room was so small with one chair at desk. And no tubs like all previous rooms on HAL. We couldn't believe this. We met one gentleman who said he did same thing and asked for measuring tape from front office to measure room but they couldn't accommodate him. Hysterical!! Well another lesson. No more inside cabins on HAL Back to dining. We received message next day that we were still assigned to late dining. But at least we were on same floor. Well that didn't help. I called asking for any additional help. But to no avail. I had read on roll calls that there was suspicion of big group on cruise. And it looks like its affecting quite a few venues. taking all of anytime dining , closing pool for private parties, and pulling staff to accommodate them. Only choice we had was to book pay restaurants. Which we usually don't do. We enjoy dining in MDR n HAL. So we booked Pinnacle Grill ,Canalettos,and Tamarind-all for 5:30pm. And the rest of nights would have to be in Lido buffet. pinnacle was terrible service and overlooked steaks. But Canaletto was good with great service , Osso Bucco. Delicious!! Tamarind Restaurant was a delight. If I ever have to go to pay restaurant again. I would definitely choose this one. Setting beautiful service efficient and delightful staff. Food outstanding and presentations amazing. The rest of week felt like we were castaways. Not allowed to experience MDR at all. All our formal clothes seemed silly in buffet. Not a good experience!! As far as ports our weather was beautiful but HAL. Put a kink in this too they gave us notice that we would be leaving an hour earlier from St Maarten. Wonderful. I had to reach Bernard's tours about our reservation. He said he could still take us since he had other HAL tourists as well. And would try to cut as little as possible agreeing to pick us up 1/2 hour earlier. Thumbs up for Bernard. As it turned out we did miss time at Maho beach. And time at Orient Beach also. not happy but at least he still took us. From what we heard on ship this also was affected by Farm Bureau Group. We'll never know?? Half Moon Cay was a beautiful day at the beach. And San Juan is always fun. We took the free trolley up to fort then to Cafe Mallorcas for pastry. Yummy!! (for LaBombanera fans. Sign over building saying will reopen. HOORAY!!! ) We walked Back to town. And stopped at Punto de Vista for lunch for BOGO mojitos. And mofongo. Everything was delicious(right across from port). In Nassau. We just took a walk around town. Since we've been here numerous times. And back to ship to enjoy empty pools. Another beautiful day!! And the brightest part of our trip was the crew always taking care of us with a smile despite being short-staffed in many venues. And the entertainment. Was great. Especially " Matilda". Very funny. Should have second performance. All the singers and dancers. We're amazing and so much fun Big thumbs up to Brent,Jacob, and all their entertainment crew. A true asset to HAL Lessons learned. Always try to find out if there is large group on board and avoid that cruise. It seems we have to watch out for the problem. Because HAL. Was just worrying about the money they were making with that group and I felt(not only us) they had just cast others aside. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2013
I booked this cruise at the last minute to attend an educational conference held on the cruise. The conference room was not very comfortable because of the seats and the noise from the group next door. I sailed with my 9 year-old ... Read More
I booked this cruise at the last minute to attend an educational conference held on the cruise. The conference room was not very comfortable because of the seats and the noise from the group next door. I sailed with my 9 year-old son. He was not impressed with Club Hal and staff. He made 2 good friends on board and spent most of the cruise hanging out with his friends away from Club Hal. There was always plenty of room in the pool and hot tubs. The pool seemed heated which which made for comfortable swimming. My son broke his arm on the ship while playing soccer. The medical clinic and crew were wonderful. They checked on us several times during the cruise, making sure he was doing ok and didn't need anything. We did not dine in the main dining room for dinner and ate almost exclusively at the Lido cafeteria style restaurant. The food was outstanding. Lots of variety. You could eat steak every night if you wanted. It seemed like some of the apps and entrees were the same as what was served in the main dining room. One of my favorite spaces on the ship was the library. They have a wonderful selection of books and magazines. It has a nice coffee bar with yummy treats. I loved all the fresh flowers on the ship. Every room service order came with fresh flowers. The entertainment and stage is top-notch. We sure enjoyed all the shows we saw. The ship has a cozy movie theatre which plays a different movie daily. We have cruised Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival previously. This Holland cruise hosted mostly elderly passengers, which provides the ship with a much different feel. I felt that many were not happy to see children on the cruise. I do not think I would cruise Holland with my children again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2013
We are a family of 4 (parents 40s/50s) and two teens. We had two connecting balcony cabins and this worked well for us. This is our 5th cruise as a family and our second HAL cruise. First, let me say we had a great time. The only issue ... Read More
We are a family of 4 (parents 40s/50s) and two teens. We had two connecting balcony cabins and this worked well for us. This is our 5th cruise as a family and our second HAL cruise. First, let me say we had a great time. The only issue we had was with the teen club and is described below. Service -- Always outstanding. Staff was wonderful. We rarely saw our cabin stewards, but everything was immaculate and all requests quickly filled. In addition to our wonderful cabin stewards I have to give a shout out to the bartenders at the Ocean Bar. They either really enjoy their job or they deserve an acting award. They seemed to be always happy, having fun and poured great happy hour drinks. We aren't big drinkers but we did have a drink at happy hour before dinner most evenings. HAL's happy hours have to be one of the best deals at sea. Ship -- Clean and wonderful. No complaints at all. Entertainment -- In terms of musician talent and quality, this was probably the best cruise we have had. While we were impressed by the talent, we were disappointed in the overall selection. I can't recall hearing a single song on the ship during the evening that was popular after my high school graduation and we are far from 20 somethings! I like 60s, 70s and earlier music but I don't want that to be my only choice. Every night we walked around after dinner and to us, sorry, the musical selections were dated and repetitive. I made a note of the music I heard after our first formal dinner to give you a flavor -- Evening Show, was a group called Cantare which had the most amazing voices and they were singing "He's not Heavy, He's my Brother" when stopped in; Northern Lights -- "Brickhouse"; Piano Bar "Hang on Sloopy";dancing band was covering a Stevie Wonder song; Adagio (great classical duo by the way) "If I were a Rich Man;" and the guitarist "Black Magic Woman." Activities -- We enjoyed our time on ship and always had something to do. All 4 of us spent a lot of time reading, exercising and exploring. Although the daily program listed a full day of activities, a large number of them were not the kinds of things we enjoy. We don't watch infomercials or listen to sales pitches at home, and we most certainly don't want to do it on vacation. We thought too many of the activities each day fell into this category -- spa seminars where they pushed products and services, shopping seminars, future cruise itineraries, talks on what to buy in port and where to buy it, art auctions, etc. In addition to outright sales, there were a number of other activites that involved more sales including gambling opportunities (poker tournaments, lotteries, etc.)and drinking (mixed drink classes and various tastings for a fee). When you crossed off the various sales, gambling and drinking activies from the daily program there weren't many activities left. If Holland America just took 25% of the sales presentations and turned them into a more diverse selection of activities I think it would be a big improvement. We did enjoy the cooking classes and trivia, but they usually lasted less than 30 minutes. Teen Club- Holland America mixes all teens ages 13-17 together. This is too wide of a spread. On the first sea day I went to see if my 13 year old wanted to join us for lunch and the group was watching an R rated movie (Stepbrothers) with a staff member in the room. I walked in during a quick sex scene in the movie and did not feel it was appropriate for younger teens. I spoke to the manager and the movie was supposed to be removed from the club play list. Food -- We had dinner in Pinnacle twice, Tamarind once, Cannaletto once and the main dining room 3 times, including both formal nights. Pinnacle and Tamarind were wonderful and we would go back in a heartbeat. We wouldn't pay for Cannaletto again. While I really enjoyed my fish dish, both my husband and older son described the chicken cacciatore as "a good crockpot meal or good cafeteria food." Nothing wrong with good cafeteria food but not worth a $10 per person up charge. We had a mix of breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the main dining room. Most meals were good to very good. One tip is to try the Japenese breakfast. The salmon at breakfast may have been the best fish we had on the ship. I suspect it was cooked to order as it isn't ordered as frequently. In contrast the mahi-mahi at our second formal night was probably the worst entree we had. Dry, and well done you could tell it had been cooked too long before it was served. All of our chicken dishes were very good. Shellfish was mixed. All of it was pre-frozen and some of it was very good and some of it was very watery. In summary, we will take HAL again for the right itinerary, which for us is one with lots of long port days. For cruises where we will have more time on the ship, we might try a different line in an effort to find something with a different mix of activities or music. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2013
Nieuw Amsterdam Review Dates: March 17 -- March 31 (Collector's cruise: Eastern/Western Caribbean) Cabin: 7088 (verandah) First time on HAL. Several cruises on other lines/ships. Favorite ship so far is Azamara Journey. ... Read More
Nieuw Amsterdam Review Dates: March 17 -- March 31 (Collector's cruise: Eastern/Western Caribbean) Cabin: 7088 (verandah) First time on HAL. Several cruises on other lines/ships. Favorite ship so far is Azamara Journey. Second favorite ship is now HAL's NA. Pre and post cruise stay: Embassy Suites -- stayed here before. Took taxi to and from pier -- much better than shuttle service. Embarkation: Arrived around 11:30. Through security and sitting in chairs waiting to embark by 11:40. Sat about 20 minutes until our group number was called. We were herded into a line to have the welcome aboard picture -- which we found annoying. We could have made a big deal about it and skipped the line but decided it was only about a 10 minute wait. However, we liked other ships where there was sufficient room to just walk around the picture taking. Cabin immediately ready when boarding ship. Cabin: Seemed just a little bit narrower than other verandah cabins we have had but I am someone who likes the coziness of the cabins as long as I have a verandah. Closet storage was good. No real storage in the desk. Small drawers in nightstand tables. Wall hung high intensity flexible stem lights on each side of the bed which were great for reading. Verandah normal size I'm used to -- 2 chairs, 1 stool, 1 very small round table. BED: after the first week of not sleeping all that well, I asked for an egg crate topper and that helped. For some reason just didn't seem as easy to get a good night's sleep on this cruise so it was probably the bed. Absolutely quiet location -- perfect location for us. Took the shoe holder for the bathroom door only to find that there is a large chrome hook that was in the way and I couldn't use the metal over-the-door hooks to hang it on the inside where I wanted it. Luckily I had some plastic luggage tag hooks that I used and hooked it to the chrome hook. Paid for unlimited laundry service both weeks and it was great. Clothes always back the next day. Liked taking a shower in the tub - so much better than those little showers we are used to. Cabin stewards: Mada and DJ. Excellent service always with a smile. We often saw them scurrying about in the hall and they always asked if we needed anything or wished us a good day. Cabin always cleaned on our schedule and kept immaculate. Staff in general: Friendly but somehow a little more reserved than on other ships. The lido buffet staff who have to serve the hot food to each person for every meal seemed less than thrilled with their job -- wonder why? No smiles just miserable looking faces. Don't blame them -- one of the worst jobs on the ship IMO. However, there was a young women (wore teeth braces) that always had a smile and didn't seem to mine dishing out ice cream over and over and over. Casino: We always take $200 just to "fool around" on the slot machines a little each night before going to dinner. Most often we run out of money by the 3rd or 4th day on other cruises. This time we had a lot of fun. Although we came home with 0 in our envelope, we would lose $40 one day and then win $60-$80 the next; lose then win, etc. It made going to the casino fun. I expect to lose the money and look at it as an entertainment expense and we were entertained often for 30 minutes or so on just $30 each -- AND we only play $1 machines. Exceptionally nice casino staff. Movie room: Very nice comfortable seats. A different movie was shown each day (I think 4 times a day). I would have gone every day if there had always been a movie I even remotely wanted to see. Bags of popcorn always on a table up front. Computer/Digital Classes: This was definitely a highlight of the two-week cruise for me. The ship had a classroom with brand new equipment using Windows 8. Patti, the Techspert for this cruise, was excellent in working with cruisers with varied computer skills. I am a Microsoft Certified Master Instructor in the complete MS Office Suite but I stopped teaching 7 years ago when touch screens were just coming on the market and we were using Windows XP and Office 2000. I never knew about the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, SkyDrive, or HealthVault. When I got home I noticed the icons for Photo Gallery and Movie Maker but had never before thought to explore them. Granted I know a lot about Microsoft software programs so it might be easier for me to grasp new concepts, but I was exposed just enough to each of these products that I will definitely make major use of them at home. To me, the information I learned in these workshop classes made this entire trip worthwhile. I loved every minute of them. Food: We never even walked into any of the dining rooms. We decided this trip to just "gut it out" in the Lido for all meals and go totally casual. Well, we were pleasantly surprised the FIRST week of the cruise. The food was excellent far exceeding any lido buffet on any ship except the Azamara. I don't eat much meat, but each night my husband had prime rib, excellent cuts of lamb, steak -- all cooked to perfection -- in his opinion anyway. Salad bar selection was very good once they got past the two days when it wasn't self serve. Fruit selection just lots of melons -- rare to see pineapple -- bowl of strawberries that weren't that great and bananas. They continued to have the hot food served by the staff and that really made getting food so much longer. Lots of grits offered instead of potatoes -- we can't stand grits. It was funny to stand in line and hear people ask for the mashed potatoes and be told -- these are grits. I guess lots of people like them or they are really cheap to make. Vegetable selection was heavy on carrots, but I always had a nice salad at lunch and dinner. Desserts were actually good and I had cheesecake for just about every lunch and dinner. THEN THE SECOND WEEK STARTED AND IT WENT DOWNHILL FAST. Of course, this was now the week before Easter so the ship was noticeably more crowded. The week before always could find a seat; the second week it was a real challenge and some times I just gave up. No prime rib at all this week. No nice cuts of lamb -- only greasy lamb shanks. Steaks (according to my husband) were dry, stringy, etc. The disappointment was definite. Rarely saw a cheesecake at any meal. Grits continued to be served instead of mashed potatoes. They did have lobster tails both weeks on the second formal night but they were the usual cruise ship fare -- ok but nothing to get too excited about. We felt that we were no longer on the same cruise ship as far as food goes. Activities: Never went to the pool; the only activities we did were going to movies and I went to the computer classes. HOWEVER, I do want to mention that I did look over each day's activity sheet and felt that this cruise had way more to offer then other ships we have been on. Of course, the ultimate goal of most "activities" are to sell something but they also had a few educational lectures. If I had been inclined I could have been busy all day each day and not with silly things like belly flop contests. We also went to the lecture on feet where they try to sell you the Good Feet arch supports. My husband has had a lot of issues with hip pain when walking and is pretty much on the desperate side for relief. He has inserts from podiatrists and has purchased and returned insoles from various stores that use the machines that you stand on, etc. Well, he was well versed on Good Feet but never wanted to spend the money for them (desperation has its monetary limits). The fitness staff fitted him for a pair and let him wear them for six days. Imagine his and my surprise when they actually worked for him. Still has a little discomfort but nothing like before. We walked for a few hours on the uneven streets of Old San Juan and he never sat down or needed to rest. We walked laps everyday around deck 3; again no problems with hip pain. We walked all over Sawgrass Mills Mall and mall walking always seems to give him issues. Needless to say, he ended up buying the arch supports for $189 which is much less than he could ever find them at home. And here I was making fun of him for going to a cruise ship "lecture." Fitness area: I used the weight machines and free weight area several times. They have managed to fit in a lot of nice equipment in a small space. Don't use cardio machines, but seemed to be a lot of them. Also this fitness center offered many more classes (most were free) than any ship I have sailed. Entertainment: We don't drink and never went to any bars. Any music we would like always started after 9 and we are in our cabin for the night by that time. Did go to the Cantare show and it was pretty good. It was painful to watch the four men walk around, however. Really need some serious choreography work. Went to the NYC Show and thought it was on the level of a high school performance. Most singing was off pitch and I could have danced as well. Really bad. Also, found the background annoying for the most part. So, IMO entertainment (as far as musicals in the theater) was not worth the effort. They did have a guest diva performer but we didn't go -- so that might have been a good show. Ports: When we cruise the Caribbean it is for snorkeling at every port we can. We also try to find new places to which to return for land vacations. Anyway, I chose this Collector's cruise since we could snorkel 7 times. Had never been to Grand Turk and I had a great private snorkel trip booked there only to find out when we boarded the ship that Grand Turk was being skipped due to too many people coming back on ships with illnesses. I was not a happy camper. The first time to Half Moon Cay it was too windy so the snorkel trip was canceled at the last minute. The other port we wanted to return to was Grand Cayman -- too windy/choppy for tendering so another sea day. That added two more sea days to a cruise for people like us who don't particularly like sea days. But everyone that cruises knows the risks of these things happening; just was sad for us since we vacation to snorkel and we missed 3 or our 7 opportunities. Here are our opinions of the ports: St. Maarten -- Actually stayed on the French side for five days two years ago and had two other port stops on two earlier cruises. This time we booked a 4-hour snorkel trip with Capt. Alan. We were picked up promptly at the end of the dock. There were 14 people on our boat and there was just enough room for everyone to be comfortable. Snorkeled in two spots. Absolutely clear water but not much in the way of sea life but that is St. Maarten -- not great for snorkeling. We were on the boat named The Awesome and many people sat up on the front edge and had great fun "riding" the waves. The crew did an excellent, safe trip. Stopped at Pinel island which I thought was a waste of time. You can book with Capt. Alan without any concern about getting back to the ship on time -- they are fanatical about time. Half Moon Cay -- stopped there once each week. Weather was perfect -- actually was perfect the entire two weeks -- just some choppy water for snorkeling. Here we had no choice but to take a ship snorkel excursion. 22 people on the boat but the boat was large so not crowded. Well run, safe, easy on and off the boat into and out of the water. Water crystal clear and enough sea life to make it interesting. Not great but fun. The one day we went on shore to find the excursion was just canceled. BOO Roatan -- Have stayed on this island for a week in 2009 for a week of wonderful snorkeling. Visited last year and did a Victor Bodden private day and snorkeled at West Bay -- wasn't as impressed as every one else seems to be with West End snorkeling. However, since our week in Roatan was the best snorkeling we have had anywhere, this time we tried a private snorkel at Upachaya. This was very well run -- clear water -- but choppy seas again. She said that the day before she had to cancel due to the choppiness. Pretty much sea life and a very safe operation. Nice lunch was served afterwards. The only thing that I didn't like was no meeting time set at the port so we and others sat for an hour waiting for others to arrive. One couple never did so finally we left. It didn't cut into our tour time -- but was annoying to hurry to get off the ship ASAP and walk up that hill only to sit and wait. Costa Maya -- had never been to this port but have stayed a few times in Mexico -- Tulum and Cozumel. Had to do a ship snorkel trip here as well as I couldn't find anything private. As usual too many people on the boat. The trick here was to be in the experienced group which got off first and went farther and stayed out the longest. It was well run -- again clear water -- and a nice reef -- but hardly any sea life. Fort Lauderdale -- on our turnaround day we took the ship excursion to Sawgrass Mills Mall. We like shopping, and it was a nice mall. Since it was a Sunday and the mall doesn't open until later, one of the higher end stores (I think it was Macy's) sponsors the excursion and opens an hour before the mall and "graciously" lets people shop in their store until the rest open. Well, we weren't going to spend more than five minutes in Macy's so when they opened the door to let another busload of people in, we just walked out. We then walked to the other end of the mall to Target, which was open, and bought some essentials we needed and by then the rest of the mall was open. Macy's did hand out a mall coupon book to everyone and a bottle of water and bag of chips. Disembarkation -- the WORST ever. We opted to be in the last group off the ship as we planned to just go to the Embassy Suites, drop off our luggage and then taxi down to the beach area for the day and check that out. Our time to get off was 9:30. We still weren't called at 11. Our cabin steward let us stay in our cabin until 11 but then said he had to clean the cabin. We sat in a bar area on deck 2. Within 10 minutes they just announced that everyone had to get off the ship -- the new people had to get on. So, okay, off we go. The line to get off the ship was short -- walked right off and got our luggage in a few minutes. THEN, WE STOOD IN THE IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS LINE FOR ONE HOUR AND FIFTY MINUTES. Yes -- almost two hours of snaking through the line. We were not out the door until 1:15. We got a shared van and by the time we were at the Embassy Suites it was 2 and we just decided to go to Shula's and grab a burger and go back to the room -- we were exhausted. So, there went my brilliant idea of exploring more of Fort Lauderdale. People in the line were really stressing about their flights. All in all, we would rate the NA a 9 (their highest rating on their survey) for the first week and just due to the food rate it a 5 for the second week. I would sail on the NA again but never over a holiday week. I can only assume that for some reason they offered "cheaper" food when the ship is more crowded. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2013
I will start out by saying I give the LRBC charter 5 starts. I will give the ship 2 1/2 stars. Blues cruise review Nieuw Amsterdam Jan 20 -27/13 The air was fragrant; the Jolly Roger was flying so it must be the annual LRBC in the ... Read More
I will start out by saying I give the LRBC charter 5 starts. I will give the ship 2 1/2 stars. Blues cruise review Nieuw Amsterdam Jan 20 -27/13 The air was fragrant; the Jolly Roger was flying so it must be the annual LRBC in the Caribbean in January! The LRBC and ship's crew were working hard to get the stages and sound equipment up and running as quickly as possible upon boarding. The pool deck was turned into a mini festival area minus the mud and porta potties! The extra bar was set up to service the thirsty masses; extra servers were on deck working hard filling our drinks. The Crow's Nest is turned into the jamming area for the professional and amateur musicians would play there every day til the wee hours of the morning or sunrise, whichever came first! The Queen's lounge would be taken over by fabulous bands for the week, with a brief cooking demo by the Grammy Award winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien. The ship is a full charter so many of the ships normal activities and routines are gone for the week. No HAL cats, no cheesy production numbers, no captain's cocktail party. Which for our blues cruisers is a huge improvement! We get a week of top notch blues and roots musicians. Jams that go on day and night. Opportunities for musicians to meet up and record with others that they may never get to do so with their touring schedules. Just a few of the headliners include Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band, Elvin Bishop and Mickey Thomas, Mavis Staples, Tab Benoit, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Big Head Todd and the Monsters & the Mile High Horns (with Ronnie Baker Brooks sitting in), Monkeyjunk, Tommy Castro & the painkillers, John Primer Band, Kelly Hunt, the Voodoo women impromptu band with Samantha Fish, Debbie Davis, Mavis Staples, Kelly Hunt, Danielle Schenbelen, Eden Brent and Tony Braunagel (the token male from the Phantom blues band) and many more... All in all a fabulous line up. The music starts at about noon and goes on til 5am or later. Lots of energy drinks being consumed this week! For those of you who wonder what happens on a full charter here is some information. On this particular charter the pool deck sees the addition of large stage, a huge extra bar area, the hot tubs are covered over to make extra seating, the lounge chairs are removed and more chairs and small tables are on deck. The lido pool has no private cabana areas, just seating and loungers. The pool and hot tubs are fully operational in this area. The spa seems to run business as usual, many folks will go there before the music starts. As an FYI, there were no chair hogs, folks just come and go. By noon the loungers emptied out. The shops are dead dead dead. There is a Legendary shop set up in one of the conference rooms where blues cruise clothing and CDs are sold. The theater is the silent auction room where on this cruise paintings, memorabilia and guitars from Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and ZZ Top were auctioned off (over $220K was raised for charity this cruise!). The ocean bar became a small jam area for whomever wanted to play. The explorer's lounge was empty. The diehard smokers were in the sports bar. A few gamblers in the casino. The piano bar was turned into a rockin' place by Eden Brent, Barrel House Chuck and Steve Willis. Many pro musicians turn up and jam there til 5am. The showroom has a little transformation -- rows of seats are removed and plywood is put down to make a large dance floor, extra bars are set up for the thirsty bunch. The pool deck can easily have 1000 people or more there at any given time. The Showroom can be filled to the rafters. The Queen's lounge will be at full capacity with people filling the dance floor and every seat and aisle filled with people. The bar is hopping there too! The cabin stewards do the best they can with some folks not even getting to bed til 6am. I don't think a lot of folks get their room cleaned during the day, only at turn down service. The dining room rarely is full. There are many folks who will eat in the buffet or grab a pizza slice. As an FYI the buffet and pizza on this cruise is open til 4am. The pizza guy and the assistant F&B manager were dancing up a storm at wee hours of the morning. Most, if not all of the staff will be hanging out listening and dancing to the music. Some staff and crew request to be on this charter every year. I did hear from one staffer that this is a $10 million dollar cruise, which far surpasses any other 7 day cruise HAL does, even other charters. Hence why they let the Jolly Roger fly and let us make ourselves at home. Apparently the Blues cruise charter will drink more in 2 days than on a good week of a 7 day cruise. As far as I know, no one removes the tips either and most will tip over and above. The bar staff can make quite a few bucks on this cruise. I saw the cruise director once and he said the staff and crew were thrilled for us to be there as we were "a breath of fresh air" and hinting that on this cruise the average age was a few decades younger than usual. Very few complaints from the cruisers in general. Our complaints were that the food in the buffet area is downright awful, the pizza was terrible, room service breakfast was really bad and not once was our order correct, but the reality was we were there for the music. It was more a shrug of the shoulders, that's not why we were on board. Hubby and I eat in the Pinnacle or Tamarind every night, so no comments on the dining room, only from a friend who said the service was too slow to get back on deck and listen to the next band. It is a shame that we pay so much for this cruise and HAL can't step up their game in the food department. We always get a balcony cabin and this year we chose to go right under the stage at the pool deck (8157) which was a great choice for us. The cabin was quite small. If we had to nip back to the cabin we could open the door and hear the music perfectly, the vibrations from the speakers were very intense (I swear you could see the ceiling move!) and was loud. It worked out great! The jams on the pool deck would go on up until about 4:30am. I will be our preferred area for next year as well. The "mole people" tend to choose the lower deck inside cabins so they can sleep for a few hours in the morning. Something for everyone! Since this is a charter we get our own itinerary. The first stop was Half Moon Cay, which at the Stay Here Forever bar got a stage and Southern Hospitality (JP Soars, Damon Fowler and Victor Wainwright) played for a while the Lee Boys came on! It was fantastic! Smokin' Joe Kubick and the B'Nois King played acoustic guitars at the Pirate ship. I think many didn't even knew there was a BBQ happening. Drinks, music and beach were the order of the day. There was a wedding on HMC -- a lovely young couple enjoying the Lee Boys after their nuptials. We then had a sea day (all music til all hours) then Tortola where several of the local bars set up with local bands and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience played at Myette's. The beach was crowded with blues cruisers, there was a Costa ship in port I am sure they were wondering what the heck was going on. The next day was St. Kitts where may did excursions and checked out the island. We headed for Brimstone Hill and enjoyed touring the fort. The next two days were sea days, so all music all the time! The LRBC tends to favour HAL as the staff and crew know the routine of the set up and type of cruisers and the expectations. The past October Cruise was on Celebrity Summit and there were many complaints of overzealous security. Yes we will bring on a case of wine, smuggle some booze but most will still rack up hefty charges in the week. We spent $1,200 even with our own wine and rum runners. The HAL ships really offer no bells and whistles and are very basic ships. But for this type of cruise it works in our favour. To be able to turn the showroom, pool deck etc. in to usable spaces for stages and huge sound equipment it makes it a great spot for the bands. One thing I noticed that the cabana's on HMC HAL jacked up the price, I think there was only one booked while we were there. Such a rip off. I noticed on the Carnival site that they charge $250 and HAL charges $399. So not worth it. The drinks package was upped $20 per day to $60 a day on this cruise. A little too expensive for us. The biggest complaint I had on board where the bug bites I got (and others as well) at the Pinnacle grill on the first evening of the sea day. I was told to bring this up with the Guest Services Manager, but was pretty much ignored by the front desk clerk. I doubt they ever looked into this situation. It was appalling that the GSM did not follow up on this serious complaint. I have had other issues with other HAL ships in the past (particularly the Zaandam -- no a/c in our cabin and Maasdam -- disgusting and unsafe conditions in the pool areas) and the staff ignored those issues as well, so I can only conclude that HAL has the worst staff at sea. The ship was quite grubby all week, I did not see anyone cleaning or polishing common areas. Our toilet was not working for a couple of nights, I called the front desk at 5am (we just got in the cabin) and the silly nitwit at the front desk was going to call the cabin steward to wake him up to come to our cabin. I had to tell her that a plumber was needed, not the cabin steward. The plumber was doing his fixes from the hallway, I could hear the water running in the walls. I would never set foot on a HAL ship unless it was the LRBC charter. This ship sails at close to full capacity of 2500, many of the quad cabins are filled. Folks will room with strangers just to get on the boat. The October 18-25th cruise on the Maasdam is now sold out. It is sold out for next January as well. LRBC office loves it and I am sure HAL is thrilled that it is guaranteed money for them in the future. It was a great week and I look forward to the Legendary Rhythm and Blues cruise next year! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2012
Review of Nieuw Amsterdam 12/9/12 to 12/16/12We flew Southwest from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale with a stop in Las Vegas. The price was good and I was really surprised at the comfort of the newer aircraft they used for the longer ... Read More
Review of Nieuw Amsterdam 12/9/12 to 12/16/12We flew Southwest from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale with a stop in Las Vegas. The price was good and I was really surprised at the comfort of the newer aircraft they used for the longer flights. Las Vegas to Ft. Lauderdale was 4 hours plus, and I was comfortable the whole way without being in an exit aisle or anything. The 2 free checked bags made things much cheaper.We took a cab to the Embassy Suites on 17th with the cab fare with tip being $20. We were impressed with the hotel. We missed the free drinks but loved the room. The room was much larger than we expected. We went to a Mexican restaurant out the north parking lot and a couple buildings north of the hotel. We spent $50 for two dinners and several drinks. I was happy, lol. Out the north parking lot and west was the Wine store and Publix market. The two stores are about 500 yards from the hotel. This of course is walking distance for some, but I had trouble with the distance. Since Holland America allows you to bring wine onboard, the wife stocked up on good wine choices and came back to the hotel. After the wine run we hit the local bar (restaurant) and service in the local bar was a bit spotty, but we had wine and beer before hitting the sack. Our only complaint was the wait on Sunday morning to get an elevator. Obviously everyone staying there was going on a cruise and leaving at the same time. Also, the ice machine on our floor was out of order so we had to go up a few floors to get more. Not a big deal. I would recommend this hotel to anyone needing a room in Fort Lauderdale. One other hint, if you are not a member of the Hilton Honors program (frequent traveler system) you should join before reserving. It saved us about $40 for the night by booking through the honors program on the SPECIAL members website.The complimentary breakfast was more than adequate with me being a big eater and my dear wife being a healthy eater. We were both satisfied with the offerings. We gathered our luggage and after waiting for an open elevator headed to the lobby. They offered a shuttle to the port for something like $11 per person but we hopped a cab for $20 and were at the port in 15 minutes. By doing this we did not have to wait for shuttle to stop and unload at each ship in port that day. We checked in at about 10:45 and had about a 20 minute wait in the lobby before our number was called. We were in our room by 11:15. Dropped our carryon luggage, met our room stewards and headed to Lido for lunch. No problem finding a place to sit and wait for sail away. So much food and so many calories, and we are still tied up at the dock! One of the reasons I cruise.Met our Cruise Critic mates to sort out specialty dining reservations and a drink, then off to life boat drill. Such a pain. So many people not taking things seriously and making the rest of us stand in the sun waiting for them to show up.We had an aft facing balcony which I have always heard was a great place to be. Well, maybe not so great in my opinion. We were in room VB 4178. The room was great looking with a view the wife loved. BUT, being on the aft meant we never had any wind to cool things down. Maybe it was a freak weather thing but December was HOT. 80 degrees and 80% humidity made using the balcony with no wind unpleasant. I am a smoker and the balcony was one of the few places I could smoke on the ship. So I ended up spending much more time in the room with the AC than on the balcony. It was just too darned uncomfortable. For those that do not like smoking, the Nieuw Amsterdam only allowed smoking on the pool deck amidships on one side, in the cigar bar far forward, the casino, and on balconies. I did smoke on the open deck on deck 4 I think before I realized it was not allowed. Nobody said anything tot me, but I felt a bit guilty. If you read reviews about the aft facing balconies, consider the distance from the elevator to the room. It does not look that far, but if you have any walking issues, they become more of a problem. Dining is next. We had anytime dining which meant we had a 2 minute wait for a table whenever we chose to eat. A few times we chose to eat alone and a few times we chose to eat with others. All of our experiences in the main dining room were adequate. I really miss the service I was used to before they made all the cutbacks in personnel. Simple things like having the water refilled, bar service and having the bread replaced was lacking. I was satisfied with everything I ordered from the menu, but to be honest, it was not up to snuff with previous cruises. I really noticed the drop in quality of offerings. Until this cruise it really bothered me that my wife of 3 years preferred Carnival food, but now I understand it more. She is not as experienced in cruising as I am and I just thought she had not experienced enough of HAL to understand how significantly better it was, but this cruise showed me HAL has really come down in quality.We ate with Cruise Critic members at Tamarind and had difficulty with setting our reservation for 7 at the same time. There were 6 of us, all in different staterooms and none of our bookings were linked. We did get it done though. The service at this venue was at about the level of pre-cut HAL in the main dining room. In other words it was good, but nothing great. Many of us went with the tenderloin which is highly rated on reviews on HAL. It was good, but I should probably have gone with the Sushi on the menu. Afterward it seemed a waste to eat tenderloin which was a 7 when maybe the sushi would have scored a ten. Overall dinner took a good hour and a half with much of the time waiting for table clearing. When we got up to leave, the service staff finally showed up to get signatures from those who had not prepaid for the dinner. This of course caused a delay, which could have been taken care of earlier in the meal. One of our diners also ordered a cocktail that required watermelon liquid of some kind. They did not have it so he had to order something else. Call me old fashioned, but if it is on the menu it should be available. Overall, I thought the dinner took longer than it should have, but the food was good enough to entice me to go back on our next cruise. We also had dinner at Pinnacle with our Cruise Critic friends. What a disaster!!! 3 1/2 hours of hell. There were six of us and from the start of the meal we waited for everything. I kid you not; from appetizer to salad was 30 minutes with empty appetizer plates sitting in front of us. No water service, no bar service, no service at all! Then the salads were delivered and we had another unacceptable wait to clear the table and bring the main course. I was ready to leave! And I was not hiding my emotions! Once the entrees were done, going by my watch, another 20 minutes to clear and order desert. One of our group ordered the soufflE which we understand takes 20 minutes to prepare. No problem, or so I think. 40 minutes later and the deserts are delivered. The food was ok, but the service was terrible. Hate to incur the wrath of the cheerleaders but not worth the money or the headache. Not to confuse this review with the next review of the RCCL Independence of the Seas, but Chops on that ship was a perfect dining experience. Would I do Pinnacle again? Not only no, but **** NO!Entertainment - I do not do the shows and such but the before and after dinner with the violinist was very enjoyable. In fact the music throughout HAL ships is one of my only shipboard activities. Where else can you listen to beautiful classical music on a violin! My wife and I both complained about some ***holes who were talking loudly during the performance. You would think people who wanted to talk about liposuction would go somewhere classical music was not being played. Trust me, hearing a 60 year old talking about intimate surgeries done to make her LOVER happier was not my idea of pre dinner conversation. Lord I wish I would had more to drink. This is one of those things you cannot delete from your memory. Ports! We stopped at Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Roatan (Honduras, Mahogany Bay) and the private island Half Moon Cay. Grand Cayman was gorgeous. We took Captain Marvin's two stop trip. First we went to Hell and the turtle farm. Had a great time! Then we went to the swim with the stingrays. Again, very fun! The stingrays are not captive! They take you out to the middle of a bay, several miles off shore. There is a sand bar there where the water is only 3-4 feet deep. DW does not like being in the water, but she tolerated it and would love to do that trip again. You get to interact with the Rays, have pictures taken etc. Then they took us to a reef a few miles away and the snorkelers could explore for about 30 minutes before we returned to the dock. There was a photographer onboard who sold us 40 pictures for $40 with about 15 of them being just the wife and I with the rays. Money well spent. Loved all the trips we took with Captain Marvin. Would highly recommend this trip! At half moon Cay I did not even leave the ship. I have been there before and unless you are into sun worshiping and beach activities I knew it would be a waste of my day. My wife did go ashore (it was her first time there) and was not impressed. Had a good day on the ship.Ocho Rios Jamaica! What can we say? Not fun at all. First of all, there are two docks for this port. Our ship docked at the second dock which is about 2 miles from the other port. This meant you had to walk to the town or take a cab for $5 there and back. We did a shore excursion to see the island which was interesting then took a cab to the town. My wife went to the CRAFT market, which is not a craft market. They sell the same junk in the local stores but the sales pitches are much more insistent. The vendors follow you from stall to stall and it is just plain annoying. The wife made the mistake of agreeing to have her hair braided WITHOUT AGREEING TO A PRICE. When done, the gal wanted $63. She settled for $25. Make sure to take lots of small bills since getting change can be problematic. Same thing with cab drivers! They will insist on taking you to a certain store and making you wait for your change until you buy something. Just remember the word NO. It will save you lots of trouble. I was taught to say "No thank you". Forget the niceties, just SAY NO!!!!! It would have been much more convenient to dock at the other pier where you could walk to all the shops rather than where we docked.Mahogany Bay. The entire port is Carnival owned. Which means there are NO LOCAL shopping areas around the port! It is also a long walk from the ship to the area where there are any shops of any kind. You might notice I am complaining a lot about the walking. On this trip I was somewhat limited in my ability to walk and found many of the distances uncomfortable. For those without disabilities the distances may not be problematic, but they were for me. It is also a long walk from the ship to the exit of the private area. You can walk ½ mile to find private vendors or take a cab for $2. We had scheduled a private driver with Victor Bodden tours so took the cab to meet them. They were waiting for us and off we went. We spent 4 hours with the private guide and he would take us wherever we wanted. We saw a lot of the country side driving to vista points and made a stop at a lighthouse based restaurant. My wife loves lighthouses so she enjoyed the stop. They sold cold local beer for $1 each, so I loved it as well!!! We stopped at the "zoo" that Victor Bodden offers and gave it a quick tour. Getting to have pictures taken with monkeys sitting on you was a great experience as were the cockatoo's sitting on your head. Where else can you get this kind of stuff? The guide was bored stiff but we liked it.We tried stopping at local artists shops but none were very good. Think art student in 8th grade. But the wife really likes supporting local non commercialized artists. These were just not very good. We tried to go to the cameo factory but it was closed before we got there. After the tour the driver was able to drop us off inside the Carnival private area. ART SALES - I don't attend these but my wife does. She was not impressed with the folks presenting the art of the art that was available. I was glad, because normally she spends several hundred dollars adding something to our walls. This time she spent nothing. HAL offers an art tour on audio via an IPOD they lend to you. The wife did the tour and said it was interesting but very limited as to what was covered. When first reading about it you would think it would be covering most of the art on the ship, but this only covered the large items. Still though, she found it somewhat worth her time. Wine - I really like the policy on bringing wine onboard. The fact DW could bring the wine of her choice onboard, rather than having to pick what HAL had available, made her very happy. She still ordered martinis so I don't think HAL lost out on that much income. Additionally, since we were doing another cruise after this one, she was able to bring enough onboard to take the two bottles for the next cruise. Disembarking - When we got off this ship we were boarding the RCCL Independence a few berths over. So we were not in a hurry to get off. We waited until we were almost the last people off the ship. We had met a Cruise Critic member who was doing a B2B and she was complaining they had to stand in the same immigration line to get off the ship and go into Fort Lauderdale. It really ate into their time in port on the turnaround day. We met many people who were doing B2B or B2B2B and some doing B2B2B2B. You would think there would be some special line for them to go through customs to go into Fort Lauderdale on the turn-around date. We cleared customs and had no problems with the process. Then we took a cab to the next ship. The port is so large you cannot walk from one ship to another.Overall, I would say the cruise was another typical HAL cruise with both DW and I having a great time. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2012
DH and I have cruised eleven times. This was our second HAL cruise. We live NW of Baltimore. We're in our 40's. We have two young children that we left at home with my parents. We tend to cruise Carnival when taking the kids and ... Read More
DH and I have cruised eleven times. This was our second HAL cruise. We live NW of Baltimore. We're in our 40's. We have two young children that we left at home with my parents. We tend to cruise Carnival when taking the kids and try other lines when it's just the two of us. We try to cruise twice per year. Photos https://picasaweb.google.com/116889349930358549335/NieuwAmsterdamDec2012?authkey=Gv1sRgCIma86e7sMrUoAE Pre-cruise We flew in the morning of departure. We prefer to arrive the day before, but had a 7:00am non-stop flight from BWI to FLL. We booked a sleep-and-fly package at an airport hotel. Our flight was on time and uneventful. We were in FLL at the taxi stand with our luggage by 10:00. We took a taxi to the port for $25 with tip. Traffic was light, even with all the port construction. Embarkation Easy and painless. We walked directly up to the the security scan, then perhaps 15 to check in. We waited in the chairs upstairs until boarding began around 11:30. The Ship I thought the ship lovely. It was decorated in an understated manner, very clean and well maintained. The only issue was a sewage smell near the art gallery and Pinnacle Bar. This persisted all day long, all week long. Needless to say, we did not visit the Pinnacle Bar! Cabin We had a Superior Verandah Suite, an SS on deck 6 mid-ship on the starboard side. We booked an SZ Guarantee just past the final payment date and were upgraded when cabins were assigned a week before sailing. The cabin was an adjoining cabin, so we lost one closet, but we still had more than enough storage space. Our cabin steward was efficient. We didn't see him very often, but our cabin was always in order. Main Dining Room This was our first experience with open seating dining. Last year on the Westerdam, we had traditional late seating and dinner took over two hours every night. This was our biggest dissapointment with that cruise and nearly kept us from coming back for a second try with HAL. But customer service made us an offer to return (nothing crazy, just a dinner at Pinnacle and a beverage card), so we decided to try again with open seating. Anyway, we really enjoyed it. My husband, the traditional dining fan, ended up liking sitting in different spots all over the dining room and meeting new people every night. Service was fine and we did get through dinner faster than last year. We purchased a wine package and had no issues getting our bottle each evening. There was one wine that wasn't available, but they offered a substitute bottle and we were pleased with it. We enjoyed both breakfast and lunches in the main dining room some days too. Buffet I don't like the Lido buffet for breakfast, just because I prefer more quiet and calmness. We ate there a few mornings, and it was fine. Lunches likewise were fine. Pay restaurants This cruise was our first ever experience with pay restaurants. We had a comp for Pinnacle Grill. Unfortunately, we didn't make a reservation upon boarding and had a real problem getting any reservation when we tried Tuesday morning. Every night was full. We ended up with reservations for Saturday evening at 9:00pm. We don't usually eat until at least 8:00pm, so this was fine. Lesson learned to book early! We also tried Tamarind. I was able to snag a reservation Thursday afternoon for Thursday evening at 8:30. We really enjoyed both experiences and probably will include at least one pay restaurant each cruise. Other food I had a burger from the grill and it was good. We never tried pizza or anything from Explorations Cafe. Used room service most mornings as a wake-up call and for delivery of coffee and croissants before we went to the dining room or buffet. Delivery was always at the early side of the time we marked on our door hanger. We never tried anything else from the menu. Unfortunately, I never made it to any of the tea times. Every day, I planned to, but somehow just didn't. Maybe next time! We went to Happy hour at the Crow's Nest once and at the Ocean Bar two nights. HAL's drink prices, especially with two-for-one deals, are the best value of any line we've been on. Entertainment My husband attend two Mixology classes and enjoyed them. He also went to one of the cooking shows. We went to one movie, but found the theater small and not the screen on the small side. The movies shown didn't appeal to me enough to get there 15 minutes early to get a seat. Theater shows The best show we attended was Recycled Percussion. We really enjoyed this show. Kudos to HAL for trying something so out of the ordinary. We were given a drumstick and something to beat on as we entered. On the bottom was a sticker giving us a color to be part of one of four 'teams'. Lots of audience enthusiasm and most seemed to really enjoy the show. I know I did! My husband was one of the 'monkeys' and I thought I'd die laughing. We also attended Campare, which was four guys singing. The singing was wonderful, but the choreography was beyond cheesy and really detracted from the performance. The magician/comedian was ok at first, but both my husband and I lost interest pretty quickly. Ports Grand Turk Unfortunately, weather caused us to miss Grand Turk. We had booked a private snorkeling excursion with Blue Water Divers. They refunded all except a $10 fee. The port cancelation was announced at 7:00pm the night before. There was also a letter in our cabin that evening and a free glass of champagne at dinner the following night. We were also refunded $14 in port taxes and fees to our onboard account. San Juan This was our third stop in San Juan. Because of missing Grand Turk, we arrived at 8:00am rather than 1:00pm. Our departure remained at 10:00pm. We were so excited to be arriving early because we would be able to go to La Bombonera, a favorite breakfast restaurant and get mallorcas. Unfortunately, after 110 years in business, it has closed. We walked around Old San Juan, up to Castillo San Cristobal, then down towards El Morro. We used Yelp to decide where to stop for lunch and ended up at a pleasant little restaurant, St. Germain Bistro & Cafe. St Maarten We took the water taxi over to Phillipsburg and walked around for a few hours. We have been here a few times, and didn't really want to do an excursion. We were back on board by lunchtime and enjoyed the deserted aft pool. Half Moon Cay Ahhh, HMC, my favorite cruise ship stop. This was our third stop here. Before I plopped myself down on the beach to laze and sip fruity frozen drinks for a few hours, I went for a run. The walking loop is very short, about .6 mile, so I just took any road I could find. I went back down to where the tenders docked, then out to the stingrays and glass bottom boat, and out to the horse stable. It was just short of 3 miles. Debarkation Our flight home wasn't until 5:00pm. We were in no rush to leave! We had a leisurely breakfast in Lido and were among the final passengers to leave the ship sometime after 10:00pm. It took us about 20 minutes to get through immigration/customs and take a taxi to the airport. Once there, we spent a long time sitting around waiting to be able to check our luggage and then another long wait for our flight. From now on, with such a late flight, we will definitely make plans for the day. This was the very worst part of the cruise. I was anxious to get home to our children and had nothing to do but miss them! Our flight was on time and uneventful. We arrived at home around 9:00pm. Overall I enjoyed this cruise much more than our Westerdam cruise last year. I think partly because my expectations were lower. From reading the HAL board on CC, I think my expectations were just too high. I expected the entire experience to be above the other lines I've been on. It wasn't. That's not to say I had any complaints, just that I wasn't as wowed as I expected to be. Anyway, I went into this cruise expecting a nice, relaxing week with plenty of time to myself and to spend with my husband. At that level, this cruise met my expectations. We're heading back to Celebrity for our next cruise, but I expect we'll return to HAL because of their great itineraries and wonderful staterooms. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2012
About us: Mid 40's couple. Our 4th cruise, first aboard Holland America, the previous three were all on Princess. We're pretty active, enjoy all sorts of foods and exploring new places. This cruise was simply a relaxation ... Read More
About us: Mid 40's couple. Our 4th cruise, first aboard Holland America, the previous three were all on Princess. We're pretty active, enjoy all sorts of foods and exploring new places. This cruise was simply a relaxation trip, we had no excursions planned when we left port. I originally posted much of this information in my live blog I kept during the cruise. (http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1741245) This Review re-organizes all the reports into categories instead of by day to make it easier to get the information you may be looking for. I'll give you the overview of each element followed by the in depth report. Before You Cruise A few quick tips that we have learned both here on CC and in our previous cruises. Closet space is generally a little tight on cruise ships so we bring an over the door canvas shoe rack with us that we put over the bathroom door. Not only does it hold the shoes, but we put toiletries and other supplies in there. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/1/1/41853-over-the-door-24-pocket-canvas-shoe-organizer.html Bring at least two night lights with you, one for the stateroom and one for the bathroom. In the case of Holland America, I recommend at least one battery operated tap light for the closet. We found the closet nearest the door was too dark to see into as the light was too far away. Almost all staterooms have only one power outlet so bring a power strip, power squid or some other power adapter with you. We found this neat "butterfly" style adapter at Target that has two USB power ports on the end and then opens up to reveal two regular power outlets. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227600351/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227592615/ Ft. Lauderdale & Embarkation This cruise left from Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. If you are arriving to Ft. Lauderdale in advance of the cruise like we do, cannot recommend Embassy Suites on 17th Street enough. It's an older hotel but the rooms are nice and they have an awesome complimentary breakfast that includes made to order omelette and pancakes. http://embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/florida/embassy-suites-fort-lauderdale-17th-street-FLLSOES/index.html It also has a nice shopping center behind it with a Publix, Wine Store and some really good eateries including Coco Asian restaurant where we each time. But there are some grills, Moe's and other places to eat that you can simply walk back to. A nice espresso and ice cream shop as well. We always arrive a day early and stay there. For your cruise, it's an easy drive / taxi / shuttle to the port or if you drive, you can park your car at the hotel for a fee. For us, we went with Park N Go which is an off port parking facility and they run continuous shuttles to the ships. We use their Park N Fly service here in Atlanta and have always been happy with them. In this case, it was a bit of an adventure. The shuttle broke down on the way to the ship, three times. The poor driver was trying everything he could to get the shuttle running again. As it as only 11:30 and departure not till 5:00, we weren't worried. Two new shuttles showed up within 5 minute and we were transferred for the last mile of the journey. All in all they did a great job handling the situation with humor and speed. http://www.bookparkngo.com/index.php?main_page=index Getting through the registration lines and onto the ship was handled very smoothly by the entire port team. No problems at all, except of course those absolutely annoying photos you need to pose for before you can walk through to the ship. Not sure why the cruse lines think that's such a great idea. Why not take it AFTER we get on the ship, topside somewhere? That's when we're pretty excited. :) WiFi If you plan to bring your own WiFi enabled device, it's definitely flaky even in good signal areas like the Exploration Bar/Crows Nest Area so bring a a good dose of patience. I used both my iPad 1 and iPhone 5 onboard and even when either device had a good solid four bars of signal, the wifi just disappeared for no apparent reason. The iPad is definitely worse than the phone at dropping the signal, but both devices do it. Fortunately all I had to do was go back to Settings >Wifi and reselect the correct wifi signal and I'm right back online. No need to log in again if the signal drops off during a session. The WiFi in our stateroom was the worst of any ship we have been on despite the repeater being just three doors down in the hallway. I used 20 minutes of Internet time over two attempts the first day to upload my first live blog to CC, and the wifi kept dropping off so I gave up. We purchased the 250 minute plan for $100 at Embarkation and got either 20 or 30 minutes added to the time. That time is good across any number of devices including the onboard computers. You just log in using your login and go. Obviously for these long reports I type up everything offline and the just copy / paste into CC. Definitely remember to Logout as instructed as soon as you are done so you don't waste minutes. The flaky wifi is probably a gentle reminder that we are on vacation so go off the grid for a while. :) The ms Nieuw Amsterdam & Stateroom. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228651238/in/set-72157632123116015/ In a word, beautiful. We chose the Nieuw Amsterdam primarily because we had originally booked a Mediterranean cruise for 2011 on this very same ship but had to cancel. When we made the decision to get away for the Thanksgiving holiday, we found this ship itinerary and jumped at the chance to sail on her. Being from New York originally, the Nieuw Amsterdam really appealed to me with the NYC motif. I have to say first off, take the time to explore the cabin hallways as there are many MANY incredible black and white photographs of old New York, and many of the older HAL ships in New York. In fact there are great touches of New York all over the ship, but the photos are really enjoyable. I especially love the shipboard photos of how folks used to cruise. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228647998/in/set-72157632123116015 We strolled around the ship and first impressions are beautiful. It's a bit more elegant with much more attention to the small details than what we've seen on Princess. Don't get me wrong, we still love Princess, but this ship feels a bit more like "classic cruising" than floating behemoth. Photo gallery, the screening room, main lobby, has a much smaller classic ship feel. We didn't try out the Screening Room on this ship, but that was a nice looking mini-movie theater with really comfy looking chairs and seating for about 30. 2nd run movies played the entire cruise. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227580223/in/set-72157632123116015/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228649154/in/set-72157632123116015/ Down on Deck 1 you'll notice what look like four movie posters on the wall just past the Shore Excursions desk on the starboard side. They are the history of the four Nieuw Amsterdams dating back to 1906. The posters are very cool and then turn around to see half of a glass panel engraved with all of the passenger signatures from the Nieuw Amsterdam IV maiden voyage in 2010. The other half of the panel is on the port side just past the Front Desk. Take a little time to check these out. The Northern Lights nightclub was pretty small as to be expected on this line, looked nice, just not a lot of room to dance Casino was a good size, though we don't play on the ships, not good odds and way too much smoke in the rooms. Be sure to take a look in the art gallery at the "bicycle tire" chairs. Literally chairs made from bicycle wheels. The shopping area is pretty nice with the shops all being and open floor plan, like one huge store. Had the usual assortment of jewelry, watches, liquor and women's clothes along with some fun T's and coffee mugs playing off a "dam good" theme. And they also had THE largest box of cigarettes I have ever seen in my life. I have no idea how many packs are in there, but wow.... http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228669202/in/set-72157632123116015/ Off the Lido pool on Deck 9 is the spa. DW noted that she likes the concept of the hydro pool area of the spa, but it's not private at all. There are large windows that look in from the Lido pool area. She commented that you pay extra to get the spa therapy and it'd be a little nicer if that pool area was more private like the spa in Princess. A small thing but something she noticed. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228649154/in/set-72157632123116015/ The Crow's Nest up front offers one of the most spectacular views on the ship along with just a wonderful seating area. Its also adjacent to the Explorers lounge and the library DW noticed that the lending library has far more books than Princess and there's even a paperback exchange if you want to trade out some books. Explorers Lounge is where you will find espresso and other coffees. Quite good. Our Stateroom was 4179 on deck 4 starboard. It's the very most rear cabin before the corner suite. The cabin was nice though there was an issue of the closet closest to the door not having any light. Makes it almost impossible to see in there so a battery operated tap light or something like that would be useful. And the overall layout of the closet setup is much better laid out on Princess, though its just a bit of a tight layout between the closets and bathroom Otherwise, the room and balcony are what we would expect for a cruise ship. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228669330/in/set-72157632123116015/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228647022/in/set-72157632123116015/ Actually being on Deck 4 our balcony is about a foot or so longer than all the other decks which is nice. This is because the lifeboats are directly below us and they needed a wider perch to hang from. So if you want a larger balcony for no extra cost, deck 4 is where you want to be. The cabin is a shower only room, no bathtub, which we knew going in. Have to say, one of the nicest showers we've had on any ship. Good pressure, plenty of room, and a really nice shower head. The triple dispensers in the shower with soap, shampoo and conditioner make for easy access to all. And I really liked the dual controls for temperature and water on/off. Makes it easy to set the temp quickly the next time. Not to mention the lush towels like you used to get in the nice hotels years ago, really nice. And the bathrobes provided with the cabin were really nice and soft and much thicker than the paper thin ones we get on Princess. We thought about buying a set to take home. Beds are relatively comfortable though DW (RebeccaC on these forums) did ask for an egg crate topper after the first night. The pillows were a bit too soft but we find that in almost every hotel and ship we go to. We at also had the mini fridge emptied so we could put out our own drinks in there. They have it preloaded with pay beverages. One thing you'll appreciate when it comes time for the cruise to end, is that the departure paperwork was waiting for us in the room. What? Departure paperwork before the cruise even starts? Yep, get it out of the way so you don't even have to think about it on the last night. Actually a great idea. Now the one thing we really noticed different about this ship compared to the three Princess ships we had been on previously is just how much you feel the engines and hear the noise in the ship. About the only thing that compares was one night steaming from Panama Canal a few years ago when the seas were a little rough and the captain was pushing us through. That ship had some rumble to it for one night. But decks 2, 3 and 4 on the Nieuw Amsterdam you really feel the vibrations of the engines and you can hear quite a bit of noise going through the lower promenade on deck 2. Even on the higher decks like up in Tamarind or the Cabana Club on deck 11 you still feel quite a bit of vibration from the engines. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just something we've noticed different from the other ships. About the only real negative on the ship was the carpeting in the elevator area was a bit rough and in need of being replaced. But we were told by a crew member that the NA is due for dry dock refurbishment in April of 2013 so the carpet will be replaced by that time. It really wasn't that big a deal. I will say the crew was incredibly friendly from the top down. Sure they have been friendly on the Princess ships but it feels a bit more inviting and genuine here. Lots of smiles, friendly folks and taking care of our every need. At the buffet I watched multiple stewards go out of their way to help folks carry plates and drinks to the tables, and the serving staff / chefs on the buffet lines are just incredibly friendly and tend to laugh a lot. That extends to our Cabana Stewards Mel and Maurice. Seems each crew member tries to acknowledge everyone and not just turn away and ignore us. Nice touch. As we have mentioned before (DW is RebeccaC here on CC) the crew has just been incredibly friendly and helpful from the top down. The Cabana Club & Lido Pool Cabanas, the Pools. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228652956/in/set-72157632123116015/ If you're just looking for a place to relax, the Cabana Club is well worth the price. This is the Eastern Caribbean cruise and as we have done a similar voyage on Princess in the past we decided to just make this a relaxation voyage. With excursions planned, DW booked a cabana for the entire week up in the Cabana Club. Even before we left Port Everglades we stopped up to meet our butler for the week and he made us feel right at home. Just sitting in port there was a beautiful breeze coming through. Though we were late for lunch service, he let us order from the menu and immediately got some champagne for DW along with chocolate covered strawberries. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227579661/in/set-72157632123116015/ If you don't know what these are, the cabanas are available for the day or the week and included are bottled water, fruit, lunch, champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, ice cream in the afternoon, and more. Most of all for DW there is shade at all times from the sun and we don't have to get to the pool area early to get a spot in the shade. There an entire area reserved for cabana guests that includes sofas and outdoor dining tables. Gotta say coming back to the Cabana Club after a day in port is very nice indeed. They spoil you up here. There is almost zero shade around that pool and the Lido Pool has limited lounge chairs so shaded lounging is definitely a premium on this ship. The main reason DW booked this cabana for the week. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227582515/in/set-72157632123116015/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228650656/in/set-72157632123116015/ There are also cabanas available by the Lido Pool but note that these are tucked underneath the Deck 10 walkway and back up to a glass wall. In addition, the roof of the Lido Pool is closed from time to time. All in all, we found that these cabanas seem like they can get stuffy with not a whole lot of air flow due to being tucked under the walkway and the roof being closed, especially in the mornings. And of course these cabanas will offer almost no privacy or quiet because you're part of the Lido Pool area which can be noisy if a lot of kids are aboard like the week we were there. But if you want guaranteed shade near the pool, this is the way to go. It's obvious the pool roof requires a lot of maintenance as it seemed that they worked on it each day we were up in the cabanas. There is an alarm similar to a vehicle backing up that goes off when the roof is in motion which can be several times per day. Unlike the Island Princess, this roof is only one story up so it does get stuffy when the roof is closed, but they do seem to keep it open as often as possible. The neat thing is that you can walk around the outside of the roof on Deck 10 which on Princess it's an indoor walk. There is limited lounge seating around the Lido which is set up more for poolside dining. On the Starboard side of the Lido pool area is the grill that serves hamburgers and sandwiches. And for you Vegetarians, DW did say the veggy burger available at this grill is quite good. MUCH better than the one they serve on Princess. If you're looking to just lounge out by the pool, I would suggest the Sea View pool in the rear of the ship, plenty of lounge chairs, though note there is basically zero shade back there. It's all sun. Also a note that the Sea View Pool is Adults Only which makes it a bit quieter. But keep your sandals and other footwear handy as the deck can literally turn scalding on a hot day. A note on booking the cabanas: One of the CC folks we met on board told me one morning he wanted to get a Cabana Club cabana for the week but the front office told him they were sold out. It was clear to us at least a few were available so I brought him up to talk to one of the butlers, Mel. Mel confirmed that there were five cabanas available our week and said he could help arrange the cabana with the front desk Not sure why the front desk was saying none available. So if you want one of these and the front desk says they are sold out, I encourage you to go up to the Cabana Club and ask the butlers directly. They are awesome! The Beverage Card Fiasco A bit of a fiasco for us and in the end, we didn't need it. DW ordered a $250 beverage card well in advance of the cruise and per suggestions here on CC, she ordered it to be delivered on the first At Sea day which allows us to avoid paying Florida taxes. Generally the card arrives within a few hours of leaving Port Everglades but by 8am of day one at sea, it had not arrived. DW went to the front desk at noon and the attendant told her it would be delivered directly to the Cabana Club soon. At 1:30pm with no beverage card in sight, one of our fantastic butlers on the Cabana Club spoke with the beverage manager on the phone and was told there is "a problem with the system." What the manager told him to do was to run our beverages through and then the manager will remove the charges whenever the card gets issued. In reality, that never happened, the charges were never removed from our room and transferred back to the card. At 4:50pm this time I went down to the front desk.. Was told by the front desk it's usually delivered in the late afternoon around dinner. I explained we have been waiting all day for it and we were promised a card "soon" at 12 noon. The attendant promptly made a card on the spot. I have absolutely no idea why the person at noon couldn't do the same thing. A few days later, someone else here on CC noted that HAL changed their Beverage Card policy that very week we were cruising. We paid $225 for the $250 Beverage Card online before the cruise. That was the discount offer being made at the time. The very week we sailed, HAL dropped the discount so a $250 card cost the full $250. Perhaps this was the "problem with the system" our butler mentioned, but whatever the problem, it was definitely most irritating part of the entire trip and completely inexcusable. We will never pre order a beverage card from HAL again, I can assure you of that. What an ordeal for a piece of plastic that took 30 seconds to prepare. In the end, we ended up not using up the entire card anyway, but HAL does refund the unused portion of the Beverage Card back to your credit card, so no money lost. Dining and Food The food was a mixed bag on the ship. DW had read on CC prior to traveling that the HAL ships seemed to be inconsistent with their food. The Dining Room was a bit disappointing, but both the Buffett and especially Tamarind were outstanding. I found most of the dining room offerings dry, bland and just not well prepared. A few nuggets were good, but were it not for awesome dinner companions at our table, I would have opted to avoid the dining room after the first night. DW is a vegetarian and she ordered off the main menu each night we were in the Manhattan Dining Room and she was fine with that. There is a special Vegetarian Menu available, but she had plenty of choices on the main menu. Her food was consistently better as well. I think this is because fewer of those items are made than all the other entrees. We opted for the fixed, 8pm seating in the upstairs Dinging Room. We've never done fixed seating before and decided to try it out and it worked out very nicely. For those who go with the anytime dining in the lower dining room, once the dining room is full, they issue you those wireless notification units like you see in many restaurants. This allows you to head over to the bar and relax instead of standing outside the dining room. I will also say that it felt like the Dining Room staff was attending too many tables, at least in the upstairs, fixed seating Dining Room. The food was brought out smartly, but once we received our food, it was difficult to get the attention of our servers. So if something was missing, wasn't quite right, it might take 5 minutes or more to get the attention of the server. And they were so harried, a couple of times I mentioned problems with my dishes, but they didn't acknowledge what I said, simply smiled and moved on. With Princess the servers were always hovering near the tables. What follows here are details on each of the days. Manhattan Dining Room: Day One: We all had the four mushroom crustini and while the mushrooms were quite good, the bread needed to be toasted more. DW had the chilled carrot and citrus soup which she said was quite tasty. I went with the chicken and artichoke cream soup that was decent. For the entree I went with a chicken special (can't remember the name) that was wrapped in zucchini and served on couscous. It was decent, the chicken was moist but just not a lot of flavor from the entire mix. DW went with the eggplant Parmesan which had excellent fried eggplant. For dessert we went with the strawberries with balsamic reduction. This was disappointing. It was just sliced strawberries with some balsamic vinegar dripped on. Good strawberries, but the reduction sauce was less than desired. Should have been served on a plate too so the berries all sat in the sauce. It was served in an ice cream dish which didn't work. Day Two: DW went with the cream of mushroom soup to start, it was ok, not great, but ok. Caprese salad had a nice balsamic dressing on it, mozzarella was good too. Then she went with the veggie loaf for entree. While the loaf was pretty good, she thought the combination of the loaf, polenta and pureed carrots was a bit odd. Each item was pretty good individually, but together they made for an interesting combination. I went with the clams appetizer and had the smallest clams I've ever seen, but they were tasty. Then the Caprese salad with the Alaskan King Crab legs for the main course. The crab legs were good and thankfully they were split making them easy to eat, but be sure to ask for melted butter when you order. They don't bring it to the table, so as I mentioned at the start, it took a few minutes to get their attention again. Of course crab legs don't stay hot for very long so they had cooled a bit when the butter arrived. They were still good, but would have been nice to have the butter in advance. Dessert was rhubarb crisp for DW and the "Master Chef" special for me. The crisp was pretty good, but the special was a white chocolate chef hat stuffed with chocolate mousse and a small piece of chocolate cake type of thing. It was ok. Desserts were consistently a weak element on this ship. Day Three: The kitchen redeemed itself this morning with some good French toast for DW and a very good Frittata Italiana for me in the main dining room. Dinner on Day Three was in the Tamarind speciality restaurant, that restaurant is listed separately. Day Four: Dinner in the main dining room was better tonight, and I had the best dessert I've had so far. DW had a goat cheese appetizer that was quite good, a blend of the cheese and nuts. The soup was a pistou that was basically a veggy minestrone, very good. For entree she went with the gnocchi with Alfredo and onions. That wasnt bad, could have used a bit of Parmesan, but them I make homemade gnocchi so we are a bit spoiled with mine. Dessert was the biggest crime brulee I've ever seen. It was ok, not crispy enough on top, but the cream was good. For me I started with a crispy crab roll that was rather tasty. Soup was the corn and squash with crabmeat. An interesting combination. Dinner was the chefs special grilled duck salad. Quite tasty and probably the lightest thing I've ever eaten on a ship for entree. :) Now dessert was absolutely delectable. Flourless chocolate cake. Deep, rich dark chocolate. Just delicious, I almost ordered a second one. Best thing I've had in the main dining room. Day Five: DW started with the vegetarian citrus and avocado appetizer which was ok, then the Cream of Asparagus soup. The soup was not bad, not great but not bad. Entree was a vegetarian stuffed cabbage which she says was pretty good. For me I started off with dual appetizers as I could not make up my mind. An Ahi Tuna carpaccio was outstanding, one of the appetizers I've had on the ship. The genoa appetizer was also good. I skipped soup in lieu of the Bibb lettuce salad with sundries tomatoes. Quite good. Entree was a VERY dry red wine beef brisket with mashed potatoes. The potatoes made up for the beef, not a very good entree at all. We skipped dessert as the "Dessert Extravaganza" was this same evening up near the Lido Pool. Day Six: What a mixed bag, mostly lousy. I will give up on the main dining room for all future HAL cruises. DW had the dual vegetarian entrees which were Mushroom Ravioli (decent) and the grilled Tofu dish (better) and a salad for appetizer. I started with the shrimp cocktail that featured a mustard dip. It was ok. Chicken and rice soup had a few pieces of rice and the broth was not great so I didn't eat it. My table mates said the escargot appetizer was great so I ordered one of those. Probably the best thing I had in the dining room all week. If you like clams in garlic and oil, you will like this. Entree was a Parmesan crusted turkey loin with mashed potatoes. Turkey was cold and dry so I didn't eat it, but the potatoes were good. As I mentioned previously table staff has too many tables to wait on so i wasn't able to tell them about the problems. Then it was comical because this was the night for the baked Alaska parade, but our waiters had already served it to us before it started. Featured the same lousy ice cream, terrible cake (hardly any in it) and honestly the dessert was lousy. Maybe it's tradition, but if you make a big deal out of this dessert, then at least make a decent one. No other desserts were offered this night, so we went for cookies in the buffet after the show. Tamarind: Speciality Asian Restaurant. $15 charge per person Some of the best food we've had on any ship. Well worth the $15 charge. Remember earlier when I mentioned that we can feel the engines and hear the noise more on this ship than any other we've been on? Well it really came into play our first night in Tamarind. The Manager sat us directly up against the windows on the right side of the restaurant as you walk in. The floor was shaking so badly the silverware was rattling on the table and after about 5 minutes I was really starting to feel ill. This went far beyond just a vibration, it was literally pitching my chair up and down. And keep in mind this is all the way up on Deck 11. I finally had to ask the manager to move us or I was going to have to leave. Thankfully there were other tables available. Three other couples all did the same thing. Not really sure what happened that night but we experienced far more vibration, and in this case severe vibration than we've ever experienced, even on the higher decks. And I can tell you the seas were normal, no rough weather at all. Now once were got to a better table, we were treated one of the best meal we've ever had on a ship. Started out with shrimp crackers for me and rice crackers for her. Plenty of vegetarian options for DW. She started with vegetable Spring Rolls then Vegetarian Sushi. For main course she went with Sesame Udon Noodles and then Tamarind Chocolate which was a bittersweet chocolate and ginger mousse. Wow, that was amazing. For me, I went with the Jewels of the Sea soup (shrimp wontons in broth), Shanghai Ribs over pickled cabbage (we heard they ran out of that right after I ordered it). The soup was good and the ribs excellent. For main course I went with the Scallops and Prawns with garlic and ginger. Just sublime. For dessert I chose the Tempura ice cream which featured a Coconut and a Coffee ice cream with a vanilla sauce. Outstanding. The wait staff was simply outstanding in here as well Flying all over the place, very friendly and very helpful and quite beautiful. We booked a second reservation at Tamarind that very night. Tamarind Dinner 2: Dinner at Tamarind was simply incredible again and we noticed that the vibration issue along the windows was gone. Kind of ironic since we were going so much faster that night than the first meal. DW started with the vegetable spring rolls, then a vegetable sushi mix. For the main course she went with the Five Spice Sietan and Tempeh. She said it was excellent. Then for dessert she went with the Trio of Sorbets which was wasabi, passion fruit basil and lychee green tea. The passion fruit basil was her favorite of the three. I started off with the Chicken Pho with lime and rice noodles. I've never had pho with a coconut milk base before, usually it's broth. Absolutely incredible. Then the Shanghai ribs again because they're so darn tasty. For the main course I went with the Wasabi and Soy crusted beef tenderloin. I'm not a hot spice fan so I asked them to go light on the wasabi, which they did. I could taste the wasabi, but didn't have any of the heat. It was the best steak I have had in a very long time. Was also served with tempura onion rings which were a nice touch. For dessert I went with the tempura ice cream again because it's so good. The table next to us ordered the fortune cookie dessert which is an oversized cookie the size of a dessert plate. It's huge! We will be dining at Tamarind multiple times on our next NA cruise. Lido Buffet: The food in the Lido Buffet was consistently better than what we had in the dining room. Veteran HAL cruisers onboard told us the Buffet has been getting consistently better while the dining room has been dropping in quality. The Lido Buffet has slightly different offerings in the front most station. On the port side it was Mexican themed and on the other side it was Flavors of the World which varied between Asian, Japan, Thai and Indian. The Flavors of the World always included sushi for lunch which was quite good each day. DW wanted me to mention to the Vegetarians out there, the Lido Buffet does NOT label vegetarian items, you must ask the staff. The servers were very attentive about getting the information to know exactly what was and was not veggy friendly. She also noted that the best vegetarian options were usually found in the Flavors of the World area. The main entrees area rarely has a vegetarian entree though there are plenty of side dishes. All in all a very vegetarian friendly buffet. Note that the buffet is NOT open 24 hours, it does have set times and does close At 11:30pm I believe, though coffee and other drinks Room service is 24 hours though so you can still take care of very late night munchies. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228669462/in/set-72157632123116015/ BIG positive in the buffet is the coffee. It is real ground coffee, not the coffee syrup they use on Princess. I'm a coffeeholic and I have to say the coffee is quite good in the buffet and a nice surprise. Not as strong as a coffeehouse, but a whole lot better than syrup based coffee! Breakfast is excellent with made to order eggs, omlettes, crepes and most of the time pancakes and waffles. Lunches were very good when we had them here. Food is definitely much better and more consistent in the buffet than the main dining room. We also had lunch there upon our return and it was great. As we have mentioned before, check out both sides of the buffet as they are not exactly the same and the buffet is very long on both sides which really spread out people so you don't feel like crowded cattle. Now for dessert, the only way to describe the ice cream on the ship (and we tried it twice) is that it is odd. Seems like some weird cross between ice cream and ice milk is our best guess. Whatever it is, it's pretty gosh darn bad, at least for us, both in the dining room and here in the buffet. So we went with the cookies for dessert. The "Dessert Extravaganza": Held one night during a 7 night cruise around the Lido Pool. Quite impressive in how they set it up, but for us, the desserts were much more beautiful than they were flavorful. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228662972/in/set-72157632123116015/ You can go early and shoot photos of everything before they turn you loose on the food. Before they opened the desert line, the most intriguing thing for us was the candied apples. Well, they looked a lot better than they tasted for us. Well actually, the poor chef serving them didn't know the flavors correctly. The caramel he gave my wife was actually lemon coated and my cinnamon was actually cherry coated. Very sticky and not all that great. But they make for a beautiful photo! http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228662800/in/set-72157632123116015/ The rest of the desserts are a mixed bag and far too many to mention. Basically when they announce the buffet is open, The line grows immediately. One tip if you want to try the cakes, they have cakes set up on the stage area opposite the main buffet layout. People were mobbing the main cake display on other side of the pool, so I just walked up on the stage and had the chef give me slices of three different cakes, no line. Now here again, the chef didn't know what the cakes were besides the red velvet but it didn't matter, I was just sampling. Most of what we saw is the the same as is what is on the buffet. It's certainly a fun social occasion though the Lido Pool area does get stuffy when the roof is closed. It was open when we started but then it was closed and it got stuffy pretty quickly. Was MUCH more enjoyable when they had the roof open with the breeze. The styrofoam statues around are fun though. Big Ben (which kept falling into the pool), Pyramids, Leaning Tower of Pisa, all around the pool make for fun decor. All in all a fun event, but the deserts are definitely a mixed bag in terms of flavor. You'll definite find something you like though. For us it was a pudding cake I found on the stage next to the Sphinx. High Tea: We only did one of these the entire cruise, though we meant to do more. Each day at 3:00pm the NA has a High Tea with each day being a different theme. We attended the Dutch Tea. It consisted of a whole series of sweets from fruit tarts to mini cakes and pastries. All quite good and a nice selection of teas. It's served in the main dining room in the back of the ship. We would recommend showing up about 3:15 or so to let the initial rush of folks get through. This tea was much better attended than the ones we have been to on Princess so there was quite the dual lines when we arrived 5 minutes early. Slice Pizza: When we got back to the ship, we tried out the Slice pizza stand in the back of the ship. The best way to describe this would be a good frozen pizza. It's not frozen, but that's kind of what it tastes like. Not the best, but not terrible. Kids will probably love it. The Pizza on Princess is much better. Cannalletto's: Canaletto's is an added fee restaurant that operates in one portion of the Lido Buffet. Here on CC it gets mixed reviews and one of our fellow diners at dinner told us it was not to their liking. The problem I have with it is that it's just a part of the buffet space so there's no "restaurant experience" like Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind. Folks walk through the area on their way to the pools or to get drinks from the buffet area. So I honestly can't see a reason to pay extra for essentially a sit down dinner in a buffet area. If it was free, that'd be fine or just simply serve the Italian food as part of the buffet and leave it at that. Seems like a forced attempt to have a third "restaurant" on board. The Italian restaurant on Princess has been quite good and is set apart as its own restaurant. Drinks: DW ordered a bottle of wine at the first dinner, had it corked and at each successive dinner, the bottle has been waiting for her on the table. Very nice touch and better than the system on Princess where they have to go fetch it. And the dedicated wine stewards in the dining room are much more efficient allowing the food staff to get the meals out. When we dined in Tamarind, the wine steward went down to the dining room to get her wine, so you can have it anywhere on the ship. Again, dinner staff and the wine stewards just incredibly friendly each night. Speaking of drinks, we have been trying out various drinks and their "drink of the day." Really enjoying the standard Mojito the most along with the Strawberry Basil Belissimo. Another tasty drink is the Tropo Mango Mojito which is blended with fresh mango. The Cosmo is also quite good on here as well. For a nice place to have a drink, check out the Silk Den, it's directly in front of Tamarind on Deck 11. What a beautiful bar overlooking the Lido Pool with oversized couches and chaise lounges. A great place for a drink or conversation. When you order a drink they bring an appetizer plate with a spring roll and some sushi samples They also make the best Tropo Mango Mojito on the ship. We had drinks there before dinner at Tamarind both times. Entertainment Overall, the entertainment was decent. Nothing spectacular, nothing that we would have been disappointed to mix. And one just awful show that made us feel sorry for the performers. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228665540/in/set-72157632123116015/ The Showroom At Sea is a just a beautiful throwback theater with a lot of wonderful retro art deco touches. It really looks like a classic theater with full balcony, nice seats and great art deco retro vibe. We found some really nice love seats in the back row of the balcony where we watched a couple of shows. I'm also a techno geek (I work in television production) and I'm very impressed with the staging. They really squeeze a lot of capabilities into a small footprint. The second night we caught the Cantare show in the showroom. The live band really sounded great and the four singers were quite good. The Piano Bar is nice enough room, though a good portion of the seats on the right side have obscured views for some reason. The pianist is good and plays songs from different artists/genres each night which mixes things up. We were spoiled by Bert Stratton on the Princess ships who is a very talented and very funny pianist, but this gentleman is quite good on NA. The comedian on our cruise was Rod Long who put on a fun 45 minute show that was ship, family friendly safe. There was another comedian / magician advertised who didn't appeal to us so we skipped it. We missed Recycled Percussion but that sounded like it was a great show. Unfortunately, we DID see "NYC" which was a review featuring the ship's dancers and singers. The only way to describe this is one hour of my life I will never get back. We never expect much from the ship shows, but this was by far the worst show we've ever seen on a ship. We felt bad for the performers because they are talented singers and dancers, but whoever designed this show really doesn't have a clue. Poor song choice, poor arrangements, poor choreography, just a hot mess all around. People were leaving left and right from the balcony where we were sitting. We were trapped so we endured the whole show. So on this ship, the entertainment was just so-so for us. Excursions: As I noted in the beginning of this review, this was a pure relaxation trip so we really didn't do much in the way of planned excursions. First off, we loved the Self Serve Excursion Kiosks located on Decks 2 and 3 (maybe more) which allow you to book an excursion via an ATM type of machine anytime that's convenient for you. Simply swipe your room key, pick the excursion, select the amount of people and your tickets are printed on the spot. We did this one night on our way into the theater. This would be a great idea for more ships to pick up on. Grand Turk: The stunning thing about Grand Turk is that the ship literally pulls right up to the beach. This is the perfect, free, do nothing, convenient beach directly off the ship and with plenty of palm tree shade. Is is probably THE best set up port as far as a relaxing beach we have ever seen. It's now 10:45 and there are still hundreds of beach chairs available so don't feel like you have to "fight the crowds" for a chair. As Half Moon Cay requires tenders for that Island, we are thinking this is an even better beach experience in terms of convenience. So if you want a really nice relaxing beach day, plan to stroll off the ship and directly onto the beach in Grand Turk. No excursion required. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228651630/in/set-72157632123116015/ This is THE place to get a stunning photo of the ship in port. Walk over to the beach and shoot the ship through the palm trees, then walk down to the water line and get some shots from there. A remarkable sight to see a huge ship about 200 feet from the beach. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227583999/in/set-72157632123116015/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227584755/in/set-72157632123116015/ As a space and science nut I was happy to learn about Grand Turk's role in the early NASA Gemini and Mercury programs. There is a great exhibit in right hand side of the port shopping area with a replica of the Friendship 7 capsule and a John Glenn statue. He splashed down in the Grand Turk area after his historic first orbits. San Juan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228658954/in/set-72157632123116015/ The ship started a commentary about noontime on what we were seeing as we entered the harbor. A tip if you really want to get some great shots entering the harbor, about 30 minutes or so before arriving, the stewards open up the observation area on the bow, directly below the Bridge. Go to Deck 5 and walk all the way forward to get out. Great spot for taking pictures of the forts and harbor as you come in. This is our first time in San Juan so we booked the Old San Juan Walking Tour. It was a bit chaotic in the beginning as the bus that was supposed to get us to the starting point was 35 min late. But once we started we had a pleasant guide. It went the best walking tour we have been on but certainly not the worst. It was a great way to get the lay of the land of San Juan, see one of the forts and then get some good advice on where to go if you want to shop or eat in San Juan. As the tour was only 2.5 hours, we had about 3 hours or so to explore the city if we wanted. But the temps were about 86 and very muggy today so once the tour was over, we headed back for a swim. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228657466/in/set-72157632123116015/ Word of warning on this tour. This is a WALKING tour up and down hills, through the fort and then all the way back to the ship. The bus only takes you to the starting point and that's it. From there you walk the tour and all the way back down to the ship. Dress comfortably, have good shoes on and you'll be fine. St. Maarten: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228662070/in/set-72157632123116015/ St Maarten and San Juan are both extremely well set up for just walking though there is far less car traffic in St Maarten. When you do get out and walk, be sure to explore the streets back away from beach. There are great shops, street vendors and restaurants for about 5 blocks back from the beach and about 20 or so blocks across. And because all of the roads here are narrow and one way, it's very easy to walk around. There is a great water taxi service for $7 round trip that drops you off in the center of the shopping. Easy on/off, or if you prefer you can walk right out to the shopping directly. We had nothing planned here but i would recommend the America's Cup excursion if you are looking for something unique to do. We did that a few years ago and had a ball. They are the actual 12 meter boats from the mid 80's and you do a race out in the harbor. Good fun. And you still have plenty of time to explore the island. There are two MUST stops for us in St Maarten. The Guavaberry shop and The Yoda Man shop. We highly recommend the Guavaberry coladas though they are a little strong So be aware of that. All sorts of great flavored rums and hot sauces in that shop, it's on the right side of the beach about one block back. Can't miss it, it has the image of an Uncle Ben type of character with a top hat and a sign proclaiming the World Capital of Guavaberry. You can sample everything before you buy. I will say we came out with a bottle of their Mango rum as it was outstanding. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227593801/in/set-72157632123116015/ The Yoda Man shop is literally what it says. It's the guy who created the Yoda character for The Empire Strikes Back for LucasFilm. When we visited four years ago the shop was in the Old Street area, but he has moved to a larger space that now includes an interesting museum with Star Wars and other action film memorabilia. Today I got the chance to actually meet Nick and we chatted for about ten minutes. Super nice guy and if you are a Star Wars film fan at all, don't miss this shop. Very cool full sized Darth Vader among the neat things in the museum along with a host of facial masks of a lot of famous folks I picked up some artwork today too that he personally signed to me. Half Moon Cay Bahamas http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228666070/in/set-72157632123116015/ We opted to stay aboard this day and hang in the cabana instead of waiting on the tenders. The tenders hold up to 200 folks and it sounded most everyone who wanted to go ashore had made it by noon. It was announced some 1700 folks went ashore. From the ship Half Moon Cay looked gorgeous, reminiscent of Grand Turk's beaches. Looks like folks were having a great time, we definitely enjoyed our time in the cabana. All board was 3:30 and we got underway shortly thereafter. Shipboard Activities & Electronic Readers As for shipboard activities, well I can tell you there are a lot of them each day and there is a nice looking Culinary at Sea class area that we have contemplated at times. But honestly this has been a complete retreat for us so we have not partaken of any on board activities so far. I will say that there is only one announcement in the morning and then sometimes a second announcement in the later afternoon on the activities. So it's quiet out on deck with little distractions. I've already read through two books and working my way through a third. That's what we love about cruising. Lots of stuff to do if you want to, and no pressure to do anything if you don't. DW is saved all of the Explorers from each day and will post them separately. And on the subject of reading, I have the iPad 1 but DW has the Nook Simple Reader which is an E-ink device. That means the device works just like ink on paper and requires light to see the book. If you like to read and want to sit outside, these are the way to go. Lots of glare on tablets mean you need to sit in the shade to read. Her Nook Simple Reader works perfectly in direct sunlight. Not fancy for sure, but for pure reading, it's great. And on blustery days like the few we had, no struggling with the book pages in the wind. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227582911/in/set-72157632123116015/ On our way back from putting down a deposit on a future cruise, we happened upon a towel animal demonstration down on Deck 2. The room stewards leave a towel animal on the bed each day and HAL sells a book with instructions on how to do them. The demonstration showed how to make an elephant, and underdog, a swan, a peacock, a monkey and a gorilla. Gave us a better appreciation for how talented the room stewards are creating these each day. Photos, Regular and the "Black Label" private session: Looking at all the photos in the Photo Gallery, I really have to ask, where do these photographers go to learn these ridiculous poses they put us in? It's not just HAL, it's all the ships. Put your hand up here, turn your leg out like this, let's see how ridiculous we can make you look as a couple. There must be a "Ship Photographer Training Class" somewhere that all of these folks must go to :) NA does offer a "Black Label" photo session that's a one on one black and white portrait shoot. It's the same deal as the regular portrait photos, no cost for the shoot, no obligation to buy, but you MUST make a reservation for the photo shoot. They don't tell you any information on the pricing when you reserve, so it's up to you to ask. We had a good time at the Black Label photo shoot. You're in a private room with the photographer for about 25 minutes and it's all shot in black and white. The photographer kept showing us the photos as she was shooting which is nice. You are much more likely to get a good quality portrait this way than the usual quick photos they take around the ship. At the end of the session, we scheduled a photo review with the photographer for the next day. The review takes about an hour and I will say, these are definitely the best portrait photos you will get on board. The photographer went through 90+ photos with us today. Again, NO obligation to buy anything, but know that the photos start at $200 for a single digital image and go into the thousands of dollars quickly. Whether you just want only digital images, prints, or a combination of both, prices escalate quickly. Note that they do go in and clean up the photos in Photoshop before you get them so you are getting some retouching done. Definitely a good way to go for a special occasion, head shots, or you just want to get a really nice photo vs the regular ship photos. If you want a pretty much guaranteed excellent portrait from the ship, this is about as much of a sure thing as you'll get. Medical Emergency at Sea: On Day Six of the cruise, an At Sea day, captain made an announcement around 3:45pm that we would be making an unscheduled stop in Grand Turk to offload three passengers in a medical emergency. He noted that this would delay our arrival at the private island, Half Moon Cay, the next day by about 90 minutes but of course that was irrelevant. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228664866/in/set-72157632123116015/ Everything happened on our Starboard side of the ship so we got to watch the entire operation. The Carnival Glory and Ruby Princess were in port when we arrived so there was no room for the NA to pull in. The captain put the ship into a holding pattern at the edge of the bay. One of the diving tour boats from Grand Turk came out to meet the ship for the transfer at one of the drop down docks on the bow. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8228664500/in/set-72157632123116015/ Two people in wheelchairs and one other person were transferred to the boat along with some HAL medical personnel. I could see an ambulance waiting at the dock for the boat. After about 20 minutes ashore, the boat brought the HAL personnel back and we were immediately on our way again. Very professional operation by both the ship and the land crew, makes one feel really good when you know that in the case of an emergency, they've got you covered. Disembarkation The deadline on the final evening to get the bags out in the hallway is 1am. That's the latest time we've ever had on a ship. Nice to not have to rush before dinner to get the bags ready. Also, today we really appreciated HALs policy of having the departure paperwork in the room on the very first day. That was all out of the way early so we don't have to think about it today. The Lido Buffet opened on Disembarkation day at 5:30 am and the Dining room at 7am so folks can have breakfast before exiting. We were surprised to see the dining room as an option, but that's a nice touch. http://www.flickr.com/photos/biscardicreative/8227600577/in/set-72157632123116015/ One GREAT thing HAL does is put the disembarkation schedule on the in room television. We've not seen that on the Princess cruises. In our case it was channel 26 and looking at it, we already knew our scheduled disembark would be between 9:30 and 9:45 as we did not have a plane to catch. It was nice to know that when we woke up so we did final packing and then headed up for a leisurely breakfast. All the stations were running just as if we were still at sea, nothing cut all elements available. A nice final impression of the ship dining. Disembarkation turned out to be a breeze and very well orchestrated by the ship. Our section got called at 9:50 so only five minutes later than scheduled. Got off the ship in short order and then found our bags quickly. Customs went quickly too, less than 10 minutes after we gathered our bags. We actually appreciated that NA kept us waiting on the ship and called folks down in smaller batches making for a smaller logjam at every step along the way. We spent the last 30 minutes or so of our wait down at the Explorers Bar on Deck 2. That's a good little tip by the way. The end of the line to get off the ship points back to the Explorers Bar so if you wait in there, you get directly into the line. When they called our section, about 50 or so folks came up from the Deck 1 seating area near the front desk and they had to work their way past us to get to the end of the line. Final Thoughts: Despite the disappointment with the dining room food, we do plan to cruise HAL again. As we have mentioned multiple times, the ship really does feel like you're on a classic ship. Attention to detail is well done and the staff is just ridiculously friendly. The bed is comfortable and the room was a good value for what we paid. Hope this review has been helpful. Happy Sailing Everyone! Walter Read Less
Nieuw Amsterdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.5 4.4
Dining 4.0 4.1
Entertainment 4.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.5 4.4
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.7
Enrichment 4.0 3.6
Service 4.5 4.4
Value For Money 4.0 4.0
Rates 4.0 4.1

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