Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise Review by hunahpu
- Sail Date: December 2010
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
First, let me say that this was our fifth Holland America cruise, so I feel we've become quite accustomed to HAL, and know what to expect. We enjoy HAL's mature, elegant style. It suits us just fine.
A little about us: My wife is in her mid-30's, and I am in my early 40's. I am a computer professional, and wife is a social worker. We have no kids, and tend to cruise about twice a year.
Day Zero: The Day Before Embarkation
We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before, coming from Arizona, through Houston. Unlike last year, when we sailed out of Fort Lauderdale on our first Caribbean cruise, we were not delayed by weather. Had we come in a day later this year, however, we would have had problems, because the rest of the country got pounded by snow. Obviously, we were not flying from an area the gets snow, though connections often originate in places that do, which can make for delayed or canceled flights. Flying in December is such a risky proposition. Fortunately, this year, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale without incident.
One of the first things I should mention is that Holland America will let you bring as much wine as you want on board. We typically bring a case for a week long cruise. It is very difficult to fly across the country with a case of wine, so we ordered it ahead of time from Total Wine, a wine superstore in Fort Lauderdale. If you order over 200 dollars worth, they will deliver it to your hotel for no extra charge, which is exactly what we did. They delivered it the night before we embarked.
Day One: Embarkation
The next day, we boarded the ship without any problems. I think we arrived at the terminal at around 11:30 am. There was little bit of a line, but not bad. We were on board the ship by noon.
Upon boarding the ship, we went straight away to the Mariner's Lunch. This is a lunch they offer in the dining room for previous Holland America customers on embarkation day. It is sooo much better than fighting it out in the Lido, which is always a madhouse on embarkation day.
After lunch, our room was ready, so we went there to drop off our stuff. When we got there, our luggage, which we had given to the porters outside, was already there.
After unpacking, we headed to the spa. When we got there, they were doing spa tours. We did not take the tour this time, since we'd taken the tour on previous cruises, but instead we went straight to the thermal suite. There, one of the spa workers was signing people up for the week. My wife and I debated it for a couple of minutes: should we or should we not get the thermal suite for the week? We finally said yes, and signed up. Thank God we did, because we would have a lot of time on our hands this cruise, more than we expected (more on this later).
I guess I should back up a bit and talk about what the thermal suite is. Basically, in the spa, there is a room with six tile mosaic loungers that are heated and are curved like a human spine. In the center, there are four basins that trickle water, creating a little white noise. They also pipe in soft spa music. You lay there and soak up the heat like a lizard digesting a huge meal on a hot rock, looking out large windows overlooking the empty sea. It is a wonderful thing.
Included in the thermal suite package is the hydrotherapy pool. This pool, in a room next door to the thermal suite, is a medium sized pool heated like a spa. In the center is a semi-enclosed ringed area, about the size of a hot tub, with water jets and bubbles. Also, at one end is a lounging area with bubbles. In addition, two large faucet-like spouts jet massive amounts of water.
The thermal suite package runs you like 200 bucks per couple for the week, which gives you unlimited access.
After signing up for the spa package, we headed out to the sea view bar for the Cruise Critic roll call meet and greet. We hung out there until the muster drill.
The muster drill is a required drill where all the passengers must go to their assigned muster stations on the teak deck surrounding the ship on deck three. There, they line people up below life boats. In some cases, they do a roll call, though they did not on this cruise.
After the muster drill, my wife and I went back to our room, and opened up some champagne. There, we watched the dock fade away on our private veranda, as we sailed away. Drinking champagne for sail away is our little tradition.
Our veranda was on the rear of the ship looking out aft. We've had aft facing rooms before, and love to spend time looking at the wake. The balcony had two chairs, a small round table, about a foot in diameter and a foot tall, and an ottoman. There was enough space on the balcony to lounge in one of the chairs and stretch my legs out on the ottoman. We never felt cramped.
That night, for dinner, both my wife and I had prime rib. We brought a bottle of wine from our stash to dinner, as we did most nights, and there was an 18 dollar corkage fee. Our table mates that night would become our friends throughout the cruise.
I should note that we had open dining. The reason for this is that eating in the five o'clock hour is way too early for us, and eating after eight is way too late, the two fixed seating options they offer. One thing we missed, though, having open dining was having the same wait staff night after night, who get to know you and your preferences for things. It was a small price to pay, however, to be able to eat when you wanted to.
Day Two: Missing Half Moon Cay
Half Moon Cay is Holland America's private island. My wife and I had been there before, last year. It has got some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen -- fine white powder with absolutely no rocks, seaweed, or anything littering it.
We awoke the next morning to an announcement from the captain. Seas were too rough to tender to Half Moon Cay. Oh well, I guess we would not make it this year. We were bitterly disappointed.
As we spent the morning on our balcony drinking coffee, we could totally see why we could not tender. Seas were very very rough, with foamy white caps everywhere. It was also cold, gray, and very windy. I'm not sure it would have made a great day at the beach anyway.
That day, we spent a lot of time in the thermal suite. As relaxing as the thermal suite was, I have two complaints: First, they gave you a robe and slippers to change into before you went into the thermal suite. While the robe I did not have a issue with, the slippers, on the other hand, were the noisiest things on the planet. Every time someone would take a step, it sounded like a bicycle tire deflating. You could never sneak up on anyone in those things. It would not be so bad, except that when you were on one of the loungers, the squish squish sound of someone walking into the room was very distracting. My other complaint is the music they piped in. Now, I do not have problem with spa music in general. However, they only played one song over and over again. We spent so much time in the spa on this trip that if I were to have heard that song just one more time...well, it would not have been pretty.
That night, we had dinner with the friends we met at dinner the night before. That is the one thing about these trips: we always befriend the nicest people.
If I recall, I had the fillet, medium rare. It was quite excellent. The amount of red meat I ate on this cruise was staggering. Again, we brought our own wine to dinner, and paid corkage.
Day Three: Missing Grand Turk
We awoke the next morning to another announcement from the captain. Seas were too rough to dock at Grand Turk. Again, we were disappointed. That was two ports in a row we had missed.
Coffee that morning on our balcony revealed exactly the same weather as the day before: cold, windy, gray, rough seas. In fact, we joked that we had had a better Caribbean vacation in Alaska the previous May, which was sunny, and in the 70s.
We spent another day in the spa, and I was starting to feel a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day.
That afternoon, to break up the monotony a bit, I went to an art lecture. Backing up a bit: Years ago, we had attended an art auction when they were still held by Park West. Park West ran into a bit of trouble and has since been abandoned by Holland America. There is a new company doing it now. This company does art lectures throughout the week about some of the artists they feature during the auction held later in the cruise. I was afraid to go to it, thinking it would be a sales pitch. As it turned out, that was exactly what it was. It was not a total loss though. They did give a bit of history about the artist and showed slides of his work before they tried to sell you his paintings, which I did enjoy. This cruise, they featured the art of Peter Max, a pop artist from the 60s and 70s, famous for his colorful depictions of the Statue of Liberty, among other things.
That evening, we went to Caneletto, the Italian restaurant on board. My wife had chicken Marsala, and I had the veal. Rather than bring wine from our collection and pay corkage again, we shared a bottle of the house Primativo wine, which was okay for wine that was under 25 bucks. The meal was excellent. We really enjoyed it.
That night, we went to the show.
Now, I should talk a little bit about entertainment on a cruise ship. What I find is that funny is better serious. What I mean is this: Funny is funny when it is funny, no matter what. Serious, on the other hand, is very hard to pull off on a cruise ship. There is simply not the resources to do a big production. Often, it comes off as amateurish and campy.
With that said, the Nieuw Amsterdam has one of the coolest stages I've seen at sea. There are platforms that move up and down, and a giant turntable that spins around slowly in the center of the stage. The stage was very active and moving. This made the shows -- even serious shows -- seem to have a more professional production value.
The show we saw that night was a singing group of four guys in their 20s. They did a mix of music from the Beach Boys to Queen as the stage moved about them. And you know what? I LIKED IT!
Day Four: Sea Day...Again
This day was another sea day, and like the days before it, we spent a lot of time in the spa. We also went to another lecture, this time about pirates in the Caribbean.
That night, we ate dinner in Tamarind, an Asian restaurant on board. I had the sushi, pho, and red curry, all of which were excellent. The sushi was fresh, as sushi should be. The pho was a little weird for pho, since it had coconut milk in it and pho typically does not. The red curry was kind of a Thai thing, and was quite awesome, with just the right amount of spice. We brought a bottle of unoaked Chardonnay, which paired nicely with the meal.
One thing I should point out is that next to Tamarind is one of the coolest bars on the ship, called the Silk Den. In there, they had booths canopied in silk drapery. They also had a selection of Asian beers, if that is your thing.
There is something that I should mention about this cruise, and I guess that this is as good a place as any to talk about it. In fact, this will no doubt be the most controversial part of this review.
Holland America has a reputation for catering to older folks. In fact, some people will not cruise Holland America, calling it a "nursing home at sea." In our past four Holland America cruises, we have not found that to be the case. Granted, one thing it has never been is a party ship for drunk college kids, thank God. However, there have always been a good mix of people, ranging from professionals, to families, to retirees.
I think that HAL gets this reputation because it is mature and elegant rather than gaudy and glitzy. There are no belly flop or hairy chest contests. It is about fine dining, wine tasting, chamber music, and ballroom dancing to soft standards. With that, though, we have always found people in our peer group, being young professionals in our 30s and 40s. We have never felt like it was a nursing home at sea...
...UNTIL THIS CRUISE. I don't know what it was about this trip. We really felt like people were 30 to 50 years our senior, with very few in our age group. What was amazing was the amount of frail, ancient people there were roaming the halls.
For instance, the day we boarded, there was a hunched over man that must have been 80 or 90 roaming the halls by himself, deck four, aft, mumbling something about not finding the pursers desk, completely lost. He did not seem entirely lucid. This first thing I thought was, "maybe we should call someone!"
Another time, we were in the Ocean Bar in the evening, where a Jazz trio played soft standards as people danced the Fox Trot. One particular gentleman -- again, must have been 90, a waif of a man -- was showing his moves to the music, but looking unsteady and frail. He took a nasty spill on the dance floor, falling flat on his back. I thought, "maybe we should call someone!"
Yet another time, in the spa's thermal suite, while I was laying on one of the heated, hard tile loungers, an ancient gentleman came in, hunched over, slow and shuffling, and tried to lay on the lounger next to mine. As he attempted to climb up on the thing, he was unstable and out of breath. When he finally laid down, after taking about five, ten minutes to try and situate himself, he was breathing hard, coughing and moaning, putting pressure on his chest with two fingers. I thought he was going to have a heart attack and die right there. I kept thinking, "maybe we should call somebody!"
This cruise was full of wheelchairs and walkers, the hobbling and the humpbacked. It was the first time I felt like I was in a nursing home at sea.
Day Five: Grand Cayman
Morning came on day five, and we were very worried. We waited and waited for the dreaded announcement about not being able to tender to Grand Cayman. However, that announcement never came. The announcement that came instead was about how to get tender tickets to get off the ship. Thank God! We were definitely getting cabin fever after four days at sea.
Out on our balcony, we also saw something for the first time that we had not seen the whole trip: the sun!
The way the tendering process worked was that you had to pick up your tender ticket at the Queens Lounge. That ticket had a number on it, and you had to wait for your number to be called to head to Deck A, where the tenders met the ship.
We had a shore excursion planned at 10:30 am, so we waited until 9:30 am to get our ticket, waiting for the crowds to dissipate. We waited so long, however, that I was worried that we would not make it, as waiting in line for the tender can take some time. Then, after boarding, the tender has to reach shore, which can take even more time. In fact, the whole tendering process can take a while, so you really have to plan ahead. My fears were unfounded, and we reached shore with plenty of time to make our shore excursion.
I should also mention that we almost never book our shore excursions through the ship. We tend to book privately. That way, the excursions are better priced, and tend to be in smaller groups, though there is a risk that if you do not make it back to the ship in time, it will leave without you.
The excursion we had planned was to take a wave runner out to a ship wreck and go snorkeling. When we arrived at the meeting spot, however, we were told that the wreck site had zero visibility due to the previous night's storm. As a result, we had a change in destination, stingray city. My wife was not real happy about that because she is not real fond of stingrays. We decided to go anyway.
The excursion itself consisted of five wave runners -- two-seaters -- including the leaders' wave runner. They took us out many miles to stingray city, a shallow, sandy area where you could stand on the bottom that was abundant with large stingrays, hence the name. The stingrays were quite tame. We were able to touch and hold them, without fear of being stung. My wife, however, would not get in the water, as she was terrified of them. She stayed on the wave runner.
After that, they took out to a nearby reef to do some snorkeling.
On the way back, one of the wave runners broke down and had to be towed in by another wave runner. That slowed us down considerably, and we got back on land quite late. To make matters worse, the traffic in town getting back to the tenders was quite slow. There were like eight ships in port that day, and it seemed that there was a mad dash for everyone to get back to their respective ships before they left. We made it with time to spare, though, and that was what counted.
Day Six: Costa Maya
Day six began like most days, having coffee on our balcony. As we drank our coffee, we watched the ship dock at port. They then announced that we were cleared to exit the ship -- no tendering required this day, thank God.
On this day, we had another excursion planned. We were going to visit the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. After exiting the ship, and weaving our way through the shopping area that has grown up at the port, we found the shuttle area. That shuttle took us to our excursion office where we paid the remainder of our fee. They then loaded about 20 of us into two large vans. The vans drove about an hour to the ruins.
We had a guide at the ruins that took us through the jungle to see three pyramids, and other wrecked buildings that used to be a Mayan residential area. At each stop, the guide would talk a little bit about what we were seeing, and then gave us some time to take pictures.
At the ruins, they had the steps on the pyramids roped off at a certain height. You could only climb about five steps until you met the ropes.
All in all, the tour took about three hours, an hour to get there, an hour there, and an hour back.
Back at the port, we had time enough to have a drink in the shopping area next to the ships -- well, a couple of drinks really. Okay, it was tequila and cheap beer that did us in. What could we do? We were in Mexico, right? To be honest, we were quite lubricated when we got back on the ship.
After sleeping it off for a couple of hours, we dressed for dinner. That night was a formal night.
One thing that I have not touched on throughout this review is the ship itself. The Nieuw Amsterdam is a brand new ship. The theme of the ship is New York, and there was New York decor throughout the ship. There was a giant metal apple sculpture. There was an upside-down New York City skyline chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the atrium, spinning slowly. In the Lido, there were also posters of Marylin Monroe and Andy Warhol.
There were also some things that seemed out of place. For instance, there was a small poster in the Lido of modern icons like Lady Gaga, and District 9. When I think of Holland America, I do not think of trendy, here today, gone tomorrow things. I think classy, timeless decor. I certainly don't think of Lady Gaga or District 9. That seemed weird to me.
One thing they did do nicely is decorate for the holidays. There were Christmas trees everywhere. In the Explorers Lounge, there was a giant gingerbread house. There were also wreaths on every stateroom door.
Day Seven: Sea Day
The last day on board is always a sad day. You spend a lot of time reflecting on the trip. It had been a weird one with all the missed ports. However, it still was a good time, and we were going to miss being on the ship.
This day, they had scheduled an event for people to get together and tell travel stories. That is the one thing we've found on HAL ships, that most people we've met are very well traveled. We were excited to hear the stories. When we arrived in the Explorers Lounge, where it was to be held, however, there were chairs set up, but nobody in them. Eventually, the ship's travel guide showed up.
After talking to him, he said that it could be hit or miss. Sometimes it was a packed house for these things, and sometimes not. Since nobody was there, we spent some time talking with him one on one. He showed us some pictures of the places he'd been on his laptop computer. We talked about about some of our own travel adventures. Regardless of the fact that nobody else was there, it was still actually quite enjoyable.
Later in the day, we took the behind the scenes kitchen tour. We also went to another lecture, this time on Ernest Hemingway, and his time in the Caribbean. That rounded out our day.
We had dinner early that night in the Pinnacle Grill, the on board steak restaurant. Both my wife and I had ribeyes, medium rare. They were cooked perfectly. The service was excellent. I would recommend that to anyone. We, of course, brought our very last bottle of wine to dinner.
Later that night we went to the show, left the show early, and headed back to the room. We put our luggage out to be picked up, and filled out our room service breakfast card for the last time and hung it on the door.
I should note something at this point. Every morning on this cruise, and past cruises, we ordered breakfast to be delivered to our room, using the little breakfast cards they provided. That knock at the door was how we woke up in the morning. On past HAL cruises, though, we had had terrible times with room service, which is funny for a cruise line that prides itself on service. Though almost always on time, often, they would mess up the order, adding things that you did not order, and missing things you did order. On this ship, however, we had not run into the same issues. Every day, the order was right, except for maybe once (on the first morning, they had missed the bacon or something I had ordered). That night, we reflected on how they had really tried to improve their service. Little did we know, they would drop the ball in a serious way the next morning.
Day Eight: Disembarkation
On the last morning on board the ship, that little knock at the door never came. We woke up eventually anyway, and waited and waited. Eventually, 20 minutes after breakfast was supposed to be delivered, we called. It was not coming; somehow, they had lost the breakfast card we had put out the night before. There would be no breakfast, no coffee on our balcony one last time. We would have to fight it out in the Lido, which was always a madhouse on disembarkation day.
At breakfast, they began calling out numbers and colors. It was the number and color of your luggage tags that indicated that it was your time to get off the ship.
"Red and green number one."
We were in the first group to be called because we had a shore excursion planned.
We found our luggage and went through customs, no problem. Outside the terminal, they ushered us to a large bus for our excursion.
This was one of the few excursions we booked through the cruise line. Since we had some time before our flight left to take us back to Arizona, we decided to take an air boat ride through the Everglades.
The bus took us to a dock next to the water of the Everglades. There, perhaps five air boats were waiting, which held about 12 or so people a piece. They took us on a half hour tour of the everglades, navigating the water between saw-grass patches. It was cold and gray, so unfortunately we did not see any alligators out on the water, though they did have some alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other creatures in pens back on shore.
After that, we had a long flight home back to Arizona, arriving about 11 o'clock at night. And, just like that, the trip was over. We were home.
Postscript: Reflecting on the Trip
As I mentioned above, it was a weird trip. It was almost like it was two separate trips, one where it was gray and overcast and where we were trapped on the ship, and one that was sunny and full of adventure, the way a Caribbean vacation should be. Obviously, missing ports was not ideal. We totally understood, and accepted the situation, but we were still disappointed. The last half of the trip made up for it, though.
I should note that Holland America also tried to make amends for the missed ports. They offered a credit on our next cruise equivalent to 15 percent of what we paid for this one.
I think that if I were to pick out one thing that really stood out on this cruise, it was the food. I did not have a single bad meal on the ship. From the dining room, to Caneletto, to Tamarind, to the Pinnacle Grill, it was all excellent. Whether is was a sunny day or gray day, whether it was a port day or we were stuck at sea, it did not matter; the food was always good.
All in all, we had a good time. Holland America is our preferred cruise line, and we will stick with them.
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