Every night of your cruise there will be at least one live performance (usually a main seating show followed by an encore performance) in the Mainstage theater. The theater spans three levels -- Decks 1, 2 and 3 -- in comfortable tiered theater seats fanned out around a majestic-looking stage, and there was never any problem finding a good seat. Performances range from comedians and jugglers to traditional singer-and-dancer shows supplemented with stage special effects from giant video screens.
These shows don't have the high production value of big-ship cruise lines -- there aren't any pyrotechnics or a lot of aerial tricks. The performances are best viewed as a supplement to the other great evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship. There are also shows you might not expect to see on a cruise: One evening the Filipino crew members performed a homespun talent show of songs and dances; on another night, orchestra players performed the score to footage from BBC's wildlife documentary "Planet Earth II." On the whole, these performances ran from mediocre to great -- with the comedian and juggler earning the most rave reviews around the ship the next day.
* May require additional fees
On select days of the voyage, Mainstage hosts bingo and is used to screen current films, so check the When & Where for listings of upcoming movies.
Your When & Where, a trifold guide delivered to your room nightly by your stateroom attendant, is a handy overview of all the day's events. We also highly recommend using the Navigator on your cellphone, which allows you to scan and select which events interest you, generating a personalized daily planner -- you can even preview all of the events for the full week of your cruise ahead of time.
Though the schedule doesn't include an overwhelming number of activities, chances are you'll find at least a couple of things that interest you each day. There are several branded activities, including "America's Test Kitchen," BBC Earth Experiences and O, The Oprah Magazine.
"America's Test Kitchen" transforms the B.B. King's Blues Club into a TV-ready cooking stage, complete with professional stove tops, ovens and prep space, as well as cameras that track and zoom in on the presenter. These events show passengers how to prepare a variety of items (with themes like "We Love Chocolate" and "Lunch for a Rainy Day") using often nontraditional but thoroughly tested techniques for cooking and baking. You'll also be provided with a recipe and a website for learning more.
O, The Oprah Magazine has lent its name to a series of onboard activities related to health and wellness, including an early morning yoga/mindfulness session, a book discussion and seminars on healthy eating. BBC Earth programs showcase groundbreaking nature documentaries and even the occasional trivia game.
A Microsoft Digital Workshop, which offers regularly scheduled classes on a variety of digital photography and Microsoft products (such as OneNote, Cortana and Windows 10), is offered up to six times daily and was always well attended.
Explorations Central (EXC) is another great source of onboard enrichment -- the EXC guides give interesting talks throughout the cruise on everything from the history of Nieuw Amsterdam to the legends and lore of pirates in the Caribbean.
One of Nieuw Amsterdam's greatest strengths is the Music Walk on Deck 2, where you'll be treated to a variety of live music from the early evening hours to late into the night. If you're a classical music fan, you'll want to check out Lincoln Center Live, where a quintet of classical musicians performs chamber music. Each night features performances with different themes: "Piaf to Peanuts," "Bernstein to Buble" and "La Musica Latina." The performance space was updated in December 2017 and features lovely acoustics.
Billboard Onboard is another new addition to Nieuw Amsterdam. The sleek, modern stylings of the lounge, with plentiful comfortable seating organized around a bar and stage with dueling pianos, lends itself to a relaxed atmosphere where you join in the songs you know and love from the '50s to today. Most days will include three scheduled performance times with a loose theme, such as "Great Standards," "Hot 100" or "All Request." The two pianists have great chemistry and rapport with the audience, and their passion for music was apparent.
Finally, we can't overstate the quality of the B.B. King's All Stars, now an entertainment staple of the Holland America Line available on several ships in the fleet. Though this particular club -- with a small stage and modest number of seats and booths -- isn't as grandiose as the B.B. King clubs on other ships in the line, the caliber of entertainment brings down the house. If the three evening sets of blues were the only form of entertainment we received during the entire cruise, it would have been enough. More often than not, you'd be hard-pressed to find a good seat if you showed up late -- and forget about a space on the dance floor on popular nights. This was THE place to be in the evenings for standing ovation-inspiring covers of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and, of course, B.B. King. And, if you couldn't get enough dancing in those three sets, there would be a DJ playing popular music in the same location later in the night.
The casino on Nieuw Amsterdam (Deck 2, across from Billboard Onboard), includes a few dozen slot machines, in addition to games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, Texas Hold'em, plus regular bingo tournaments.
Explorer's Lounge (Deck 2): Located directly across from a stunning mural of New York City (formerly called Nieuw Amsterdam), this lounge is a favorite among classical music fans because of its proximity to Lincoln Center Stage. During the day, there are occasional spa-themed talks here on topics like acupuncture.
Pinnacle Bar (Deck 2): This warm wood-toned bar offers an excellent wine selection and hosts Sip & Savor, a great wine tasting event that pairs a different food with a specially selected wine pairing each day for a $5 fee. During the day, you might find the occasional talk hosted by the spa or jewelry team.
Gallery Bar (Deck 2): One of our personal favorites, this newer bar is tucked behind the casino and generally doesn't get a lot of traffic. Its hip ambiance, with funky mismatched portraits and cloche lamps, plus a beverage menu from celebrity mixologist Dale DeGroff (including an epic spiced daiquiri, hand-shaken Cuban mojito and frosty chocolate mint buzz) make it a fun place to spend a few hours. This bar sets the stage for evening trivia, O's Reading Room book discussions and also singles meet-ups throughout the cruise.
Ocean Bar (Deck 3): This elegant bar is located in the atrium area near Pinnacle Grill and makes an ideal place for a predinner cocktail. A solo pianist plays here in the evening.
Sea View Bar (Deck 9): If you're hanging out at the aft pool area, this bar is ideally located for a deck drink. Daily specials are posted on a board at the bar, and wait staff will deliver your drinks to your spot in the sun (or shade).
Lido Bar (Deck 9): This bar is located right at the main pool and features beautiful silver mermaid tail-shaped chairs organized around the counter. Order from the bartender or have a waiter deliver your frosty cocktail to your lounge by the pool.
Tamarind Bar (Deck 11): This Asian-inspired bar is tucked away next to the Tamarind restaurant, which makes it feel more exclusive than other bars throughout the ship. Order a saketini and enjoy the beautiful ocean views. The bar hosts martini and premium wine sampling events and also group meet-ups.
Explorations Cafe (Deck 11): Formerly called the Crow's Nest, this area is a bit of a hidden gem on the ship, but certainly one of the most scenic. Sip some gourmet coffee or enjoy a little something extra while you take in the panoramic view at the top of ship.
There are two main pool areas on Nieuw Amsterdam: the Lido Pool, considered the "main pool" at midship, and the Sea View Pool, which is for adults only and located at the back of the ship.
The Lido Pool, featuring three hot tubs and a water feature, has a limited number of padded deck chairs arranged around it, with dining tables and chairs at the outer areas. There are also extra-fee cabanas available by reservation on the right-hand side of the ship. It can be hard to snag a chair here, particularly on busy sea days, and this area is occasionally noisy due to the amount of foot traffic. There is a retractable roof over this pool so it can be used even in inclement weather.
The Sea View Pool area includes two hot tubs and a large soaking ledge for passengers who just want to cool off and not swim. There are a larger number of non-padded deck chairs available here, and this area is a bit quieter than the Lido area, but there isn't a ton of shade to be had. There are a handful of umbrellas if you can snag a spot under one.
Up for a little friendly competition? Passengers can choose from Ping-Pong at the Lido Pool area, or a sports court on Deck 11, aft, which includes a basketball/volleyball court covered with netting to prevent lost balls.
Passengers can reserve a cabana space at The Retreat on Deck 11, forward, which is exclusively for paying cruisers. The daily fee includes the use of a private cabana in the quiet area, a catered lunch as well as complimentary Champagne. The charge is $75 for port days and $120 for sea days; Lido cabanas (the ones by the main pool) -- which do not include Champagne -- are $50 and $95. There are several padded lounge chairs covered with soft terry and plush towels here, as well. If you want to reserve these, you can do so through guest services or by inquiring with the bar staff, but do it as soon as possible (or even before your cruise), as they do book up quickly.
In our quest for a fee-free, quiet and partially shaded lounge area, we stumbled upon Deck 12, forward, which can be a bit challenging to get to (take the outside stairs from Deck 10). There were never more than a couple people here, and it was very peaceful.
Nieuw Amsterdam has one of the most inviting and visually pleasing library/game spaces we've seen on a cruise ship. Make your way to Deck 11, forward, where the cruise line has placed the EXC desk (the shore excursions team), an appealing small library of current books and various board games in a space that gives you a great view from the Crow's Nest. There are also interactive maps that allow you to see where you are along the route and take quizzes that crowdsource where passengers are from, favorite foods, etc. and display them on a digital map.
This is also the space where you can listen to lectures from the EXC staff, book an excursion (though this is also easily done on the Navigator app) or grab a cup of coffee or a drink from the Exploration's Cafe.
There are a variety of conference rooms located on Deck 3, and religious services are held here, including a Catholic mass every day, plus the occasional game of Party Bridge.
You'll find a small collection of shops on Deck 3, midship, including Merabella, a high-end jewelry boutique, as well as shops with Oprah-branded items, perfume, clothing, souvenirs and sundries.
The Art Gallery is located on Deck 2, aft; the Photo Gallery is on Deck 3, aft; and Microsoft Digital Workshop is located on Deck 2, aft. Guest services is on Deck 1, aft, and there are kiosks located nearby for printing your statement or booking a shore excursion.
There is no self-service laundry, but you can pay a per-item fee to have clothes laundered.
Wi-Fi access runs on the slower side. The fee is 75 cents per minute or you can purchase a discounted package (500 minutes costs $175).
The Greenhouse Spa and Salon is a retreat space where you are greeted by the soothing sounds of trickling water on Deck 9, forward, behind the Fitness Center. Along with hot stone massage ($149 to $229), the spa also offers treatments you might not find stateside, like a Thai Herbal Poultice Massage ($195) or the Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage ($195 for 75 minutes or $259 for 100 minutes), which includes two separate body wraps (one seaweed, one foil), during which you are cozily enveloped in a weighted blanket while relaxing on a heated water table, followed by a full body massage. Men's services include an Elemis Pro-Collagen Grooming Treatment with Shave ($95) or an Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial ($129).
There is a fee-based Greenhouse Retreat with four "monsoon" showers, a thalassotherapy pool (also known as a hydropool) and warm ceramic-tiled lounge chairs and saunas. You can purchase a pass that grants you access for the cruise (about $249 for two people for a seven-night cruise).
The spa also frequently offers lectures promoting its medi-spa services. The salon offers manicures, pedicures, tooth whitening and blowouts with haircuts (from $175). We recommend taking a tour of the spa on the first day to check out the treatment rooms, get a feel for the offerings and maybe scoop up a deal. You can also try asking for a discount when you book your appointment -- often if you book a longer treatment, they will give you a deal. The spa also offers stepped discounts for multiple services -- for example, 10 percent off your first treatment, 20 percent off your second and 30 percent off your third when you book three at once.
Located on Deck 9, forward, the Fitness Center is a fairly basic, no-frills gym with a variety of weight machines, treadmills (overlooking the water), stationary bikes, free weights and a small area for group fitness classes (paid classes for indoor cycling, yoga, etc. are $12). Hours are generally 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the minimum age for use is 16. Our favorite thing about the gym: the chilled rolled towels available from the refrigerator near the door -- so refreshing after a workout.
Many people walk on the track on Deck 3 (three laps equal 1 mile), but jogging is not permitted there. A smaller jogging track is located on Deck 10, where four laps equal 1 mile.
Though perhaps not as family-focused as other cruise lines, passengers with kids are more likely to cruise on Nieuw Amsterdam during school break and holiday times, and the ship is equipped with several spaces designed for various age groups. If you happen to be traveling with your children during a less-busy time, your children might enjoy the more personal attention from the staff members in Club HAL, as is frequently the case.
Infants must be at least 6 months old by embarkation in order to sail; in the case of transatlantic and remote itineraries with more than two at-sea days, the minimum age is 12 months old.
The cruise line has a policy that restricts children from wearing any diapers in the pool (including swim diapers), so they must be toilet trained in order to swim. The Lido Pool is for families, but the Sea View Pool is restricted to adults.
There is a special kids' room service menu which includes an "Explorer's Quesadilla," "Home Run Hot Dog," "Chicken Clucks," PB&J and chocolate chip cookies.
Club Hal offers onboard programing for kids ages 3 to 17, staffed by child care professionals. The hours vary based on the number of kids onboard and staffing, but there are generally activities planned from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a break for lunch. On port days, parents can sign up in advance to send their kids to Club HAL and lunch will be served to the children. Extended care hours are available after 10 p.m. for a $5-per-hour fee. Babysitting may be available outside of these hours -- check with guest services to see if it's available on your cruise.
There are separate areas on Deck 10 for kids ages 3 to 6 and tweens, 7 to 12. Children must be completely toilet trained in order to participate.
The kids area is decorated with a brightly colored oversized paint bucket and giant pencils. The tweens area includes a large taxi cab parked in the room and large television screens. The sign-in/out policy involves a designated password selected by the child's parent or guardian (only children 13 and up can sign themselves in and out).
Daily scheduled activities for kids include games like "Funky Freeze Dance," Candyland and a "Ships Ahoy Pirate Treasure Hunt." Tweens at Club HAL enjoy Nukeball and Xbox tournaments, as well a variety of arts and crafts, such as making vacation photo frames.
Teens ages 13 to 17 are able to come and go from the space called The Loft; there is no sign-in/out procedure for this age group. Inside this area on Deck 10, there are lots of areas to sit and hang out on the comfy couches and lounge areas, plus a disco area and video editing equipment.
As part of the regularly scheduled activities, they enjoy mocktail parties, karaoke nights, trivia contests and teen-versus-staff volleyball games.