Began a 50th birthday cruise with family and friends (party of 10 with 5 balcony cabins on the Rotterdam Deck) on the Inaugural Caribbean voyage of the Nieuw Amsterdam during the week of November 7-14th 2010 with a delayed embarkation and ... Read More
Began a 50th birthday cruise with family and friends (party of 10 with 5 balcony cabins on the Rotterdam Deck) on the Inaugural Caribbean voyage of the Nieuw Amsterdam during the week of November 7-14th 2010 with a delayed embarkation and departure from Fort Lauderdale due to Holland America's need to perform a CDC sanctioned sanitation and deep cleaning of the ship following an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness on the just completed transatlantic crossing. I chose this particular ship as it was christened last July and felt the freshness and "newness" of the ship along with HAL's Signature of Excellence Service would produce a very good cruise experience. In many ways my expectations were realized but it too many instances the experience was not up to expectations.
The Rotterdam deck was the last deck of cabins to be opened to passengers. Upon entering our cabins I was a little surprised to see the stewards were still cleaning a couple of our rooms. The cabins did not compare quite as favorably as the Celebrity Solstice's Aqua Class Spa Cabins as the Nieuw Amsterdam's cabins appeared a little dingy, I believe due to the poor quality carpet and couch. There was also trash left between the wall and nightstand in our friend's cabin immediately adjacent to our cabin. While the bedding, closet space, mattress,deck furniture and bathroom were actually superior to Solstice the very poor quality cabin furniture and carpeting ruined the the initial impression of the space. I do not understand why HAL chose such poor quality furniture and carpeting for this level of stateroom.
The two seater couch was a brown /green microfiber covered piece of junk that HAL should be ashamed of. The armrests, which wobbled back and forth, felt as though the were made of cardboard and the cushion was constantly sliding out of position. The carpet was of equally poor quality to the touch and sight.
Speaking of carpet, it needs to be mentioned that the carpet used in the elevator lobbies on each deck was a hideous light brown that looked as if it had been stained with bleach and appeared to be years old instead of 4 months. Again, HAL should have been embarrassed to maintain the ships high traffic areas in this condition.
The cabin stewards were very friendly and appeared to work hard but I was surprised to learn that these stewards were responsible for 30 cabins a day. With such demands put on them by HAL there is no way they can deliver the Signature of Excellence that HAL promotes. These excessive demands along with the long day the crew had in sanitizing the ship before our embarkation was a recipe for poor service.
Although tipped extra during the first night and asked to keep ice buckets full both night and day the stewards were unable to perform. Cabins were typically not cleaned before 3:00 PM during the first half of the cruise, and on four different days I had to go up to the Crow's Nest for Ice. The first night of the cruise I had called room service and asked if we could have a bucket of ice as the steward had failed to provide. I was told to call another number and when I called they said it would take 45 minutes because there were only two crew available for such service. Does that sound like Signature of Excellence Service? Also, during one night our friends traveling with us could not open their safe as it had malfunctioned (apparent loss of battery power). When HAL was contacted our friends were asked if they could wait until the end of the cruise. When that question was met with an incredulous NO they were then asked if they could wait until after dinner. Finally, HAL agreed to come in 30 minutes. Just one more example of Signature of Excellence Service.
Overall service on the ship ranged from the Spectacular to subpar. While the cabin stewards did not meet expectations (likely due to the fact that HAL gives them way to many cabins to clean for a so-called Premium Cruise Line)the stewards that saw to all of our needs in the Retreat Cabanas were fantastic. Jonathan and Anrel, along with the Retreat Cabana area itself, basically made this voyage for our group. In addition, the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager went out of his way to make sure that the four cabanas that our group of 10 had rented were assigned contiguously and he would check on us daily. If anyone is contemplating renting these cabanas (the retreat cabanas on the Observation Deck, not the Lido Cabanas on the Lido Pool Deck)DO It! You will not be sorry.
Service in the Specialty restaurants of Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind was First Class, although Tamarind has to improve upon bringing everyone's meal simultaneously. The quality of food in these specialty restaurants was great. The quality of the food in the MDR (Manhattan) was poor as was the service. Meat was not cooked to order, one meal was brought out well after everyone else had been served and Alaskan King Crab legs tasted as though they had been boiled in salt water. The menu selections at the MDR were also subpar.On the first night our party of 10 was split in two even though there were several places they could have put us together including a table for 10 which remained empty all night. The MDR Maitre'd's seemed overwhelmed and generally incompetent. Stick to the fine dining in the Specialty Restaurants or eat at the Lido Buffet which I considered better than average and much better than the buffets on the Solstice class ships.
For all of you tea lovers, this is not the ship to have tea. We went to the Dutch High Tea and a regular Tea, both in the MDR and both were complete disasters. During the first tea everyone was served after sitting down but the process for serving tables was a mess. Many tables, including ours, had to watch waiter after waiter walk by with trays of finger sandwiches and sweets without stopping to serve. For the Dutch High Tea everyone waited in a serving line in the MDR for items that were not that exciting. There was one hot dish served that looked like Chicken-ala-King and looked particularly nasty. Also hot water is brought in half -filled metal pots instead of fine china pots and the quality of teas used could not have been worse. The only Earl Grey Tea that was caffeinated was LIPTON. This was on the entire ship, not just at the Teas. For some reason HAL has decided to carry 80% of their tea selection as decaffeinated. This is no exaggeration. All of the good Bigelow Teas were decaffeinated. The only choice for regular black tea was one English Breakfast brand and the Lipton Earl Grey.
The Caneletto Restaurant incorporated into the LIDO Buffet had good food but the reservation process for this was a disaster. When we called to make reservations for 10 we were told we had to go see the Maitre'D. When we went to see him he told us to call reservations. When we expressed our displeasure with this foolishness he got on a phone and secured us a table for 10 that consisted of several tables at the starboard forward end of the restaurant that could be grouped together. When we showed up at 8:30 the table was occupied. The Maitre' D said that tables could not be guaranteed and that we would have to be split up. He also said that the group at the tables we thought we had reserved at been there a while (since 7:00) and were just taking too long. This was an apparent lie as they were just being brought their salads as we sat down. In addition, one person in our party was a vegetarian. The vegetarian options were limited and we found that the Minestrone soup contained bacon!
Service in the LIDO Buffet was always very good, even when the ship was still under Code Red from the previous cruise for the first 72 hours of our cruise. Bar service was equally as good.
Now for the Spa. When we boarded we were told that the Thermal Suite area and the Hydrotherapy pool were to be closed until we got to Puerto Rico on Wednesday. We asked if this had to do with Code Red and were told it had nothing to do with sanitation issues, although this was apparently not the truth. HAL offered us a $100 per couple package for use of the pool and thermal suites beginning on Wednesday (cruise left Sunday)which we thought was a good deal so the 5 couples purchased the package. Come Wednesday night the pool and Thermal Suites were still closed. We were told they would open on Thursday which they did. We called the Spa to see if we could get a partial refund since it had not opened when promised. We were told that all 5 cabins would get a partial refund. The spa itself was very nice and was superior to the Spa on Solstice Class.
When I checked on the 2nd to last night of the cruise only two of our 5 cabins had been given a credit. My cabin had not been credited. When I went down to the Front Office I was told that they had to check with the Spa Manager before we could get credit. I said I would check back tomorrow. The next night still no credit so I asked the crew person behind the Front Office Desk and was told again they had to check with the Spa Manager before giving the credit. Apparently HAL had no intentions of crediting me and three other cabins in our group unless we made an issue of it. After 10 minutes of pushing them to take care of the credit then and there they finally agreed to credit $25 after the Front Desk Manager made some calls. This is clearly not Signature of Excellence Service. If I had not gone back to check the next night they would not have made the credit even though they had verbally said they would previously. When I thanked the Front Desk person for addressing this issue she gave me nasty look.
We only did one shore excursion (a Segway tour of Old San Juan)which was excellent. This tour was not affiliated with HAL as the tour company is not unionized and HAL (Carnival) will thus not use them. We found this company , (which is right on the San Juan Piers)through Celebrity as they are a Celebrity sponsored excursion. Other members of our group had excursions cancelled at Grand Turk (Scuba) and Half Moon Cay (snorkeling) due to sea conditions.
We saw one song and dance show,and the Barnaby Experience show. Both were a waste of time, especially Barnaby. The guy cannot even juggle. We did see a comedian, who was excellent. The entertainment is generally subpar. Other than the nightclub, most of the music played in the lounges was dated (mostly pre-1970's).
Although we spent little to no time at the pools, our cabanas overlooked the Lido pool which has a retractable roof. The crew seemed to open and close the roof frequently, sometimes due to rain, but other times for no apparent reason. When in the open position, the sections seemed to bang around as the ship moved indicating a possible design flaw. The ship also did not appear to handle that smoothly in rough seas. Either these were some of the roughest Bahamas seas in history or the ship's stabilizers were just not up to the challenge. Though most cruises play either recorded music or have a live band at the pool, we heard nothing. With a caribbean cruise one would expect to hear some nice island music, but the lack thereof left us less in the cruise mood. There was some music piped in at the aft Sea View Pool. One day everyone at the Sea View Pool was disrupted when a ship generator was started and black soot rained down on everyone and their drinks. At least the generator did not catch fire.
In Summary the tale of two different ship experiences on the Nieuw Amsterdam is a function in part of the crew exhibiting exemplary service (Retreat Cabana area, specialty restaurants) while other areas (cabin stewards, room service front office personnel) did not exhibit even marginally acceptable service. HAL does not even come close to matching the consistent good service we experienced on Solstice Class and has a long way to go to meet their own Signature of Excellence standards. To start,. HAL needs to reduce the number of cabins their stewards must service, correct the nickel and dime culture that exists, and have enough staff on board to meet customer needs. I should never have to spend any significant time trying to get a partial credit for spa service I bought that was not delivered. Trying to get a measly $25 credit was like pulling teeth. I should not even have had to ask for a credit when the Spa was not opened on Wednesday as promised. In addition, telling paying customers to wait for 45 minutes for ice at midnight because there are only two crew members available on a 2100 passenger ship owned by a Premium cruise line is not acceptable.
The ship itself is beautiful, particularly the public rooms, restaurants and bars as they are more nautical in design than say the Solstice class. The cabin, while providing an extremely comfortable mattress and balcony furniture and excellent bathroom facility, did not live up to what was expected for a brand new ship given the poor quality carpeting and furniture. The cabin deck corridors also seemed dingy when compared to Solstice Class, but public room deck areas were well lit and attractive, except for elevator lobby carpeting which looked completely worn out. Bottom line- if you want to cruise HAL- pick an Itinerary that you like with limited sea days where you will be off the ship each day or rent a Retreat Cabana (which really is First Class and an absolute Home Run for HAL both from a service and value standpoint) and eat in the Pinnacle Grill or Tamarind each night. Do not eat lunch at either specialty restaurant. Besides the balcony you do not want to spend much time in the dingy cabins. Spend your evenings in the beautiful public rooms, especially Explorer's Bar, Pinnacle Bar, Ocean Bar and Crow's Nest. The Explorations Cafe is also the only good coffee on board and it is still not up to Starbucks standards. It pales in comparison to the coffee/dessert bar on Solstice class. Skip the internet there. It is a rip off. Read Less