Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Half Moon Cay, At Sea, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, At Sea, Key West, Fort Lauderdale - Read cruise blog
This was our second sailing aboard Nieuw Amsterdam. The last time was back in 2010 when the ship was nearly brand new. We are pleased to report that, other than a few name changes of venues here and there, not much has changed. If you loved Nieuw Amsterdam back then, you will still love it today.
With a gross tonnage of 86,700, Nieuw Amsterdam is considered a mid-range ship it a world where 140,000+ ton ships now carry 5,000 or more passengers. She can carry a capacity of 2,106 guests, has 11 decks, two pools and just about everything else you would expect to find on a cruise ship.
Nieuw Amsterdam docked in Cozumel, Mexico
We arrived at Port Everglades just after 1pm and a long line was already forming outside of the terminal building. We were informed that we should not arrive before 12:30pm. It took close to two hours for us to get through security and snake through the long lines to get our boarding cards. It was one of the longest embarkation times we have experienced. If you want to avoid the long, slow moving line, show up at noon or wait until after 2:30pm until the lines begin to die down. It is a long time to stand and we did not see any place to sit while waiting.
Guests are assigned color-coded luggage tags indicating their time for disembarkation. Generally, this is determined by the time of your flight. We had a 10:55am flight out of Miami, so we opted for the Expedited Disembarkation. We were surprised to see that a large number of guests chose this option. There were more than 100 people already waiting in line to disembark when we arrived on Deck 2 at 7:30am. With the Expedited option, you must carry off all your own luggage. We have two large duffel bags which have handles and wheels, so it is not a big deal for us to roll off our own luggage. We were able to swipe our stateroom key for the last time at around 8:10am. The lines at U.S. Customs were not too long and we were in front of the terminal by 8:20am.
Even though Nieuw Amsterdam is going into its sixth year of service, there are very few signs of wear. Carpeting in most public areas looks fresh, and even new in some spaces. The same is true for the furnishings. The only real noticable wear is the carpet in the elevator lobbies, understandable as those areas get a lot of traffic. The wooden rails on stairwells and hallways could use some refurbishment. Other than that, the ship looks as good as new.
There are two pools on Nieuw Amsterdam, both on the Lido Deck (9). The Lido Pool is covered by a sliding roof that can be opened in nice weather or closed when it rains or in colder climates. The Sea View Pool is located aft on Deck 9 and is an adults-only pool. There are plenty of clean towels available for guest use at both pools. There are several areas where guests can find loungers to get all the sun they desire. A nice, expansive promenade deck wraps around Deck 3 and is perfect for morning walks. Joggers may prefer Deck 10, however.
There are semi-private cabanas available for rent at the Lido Pool starboard side as well as on Deck 11 overlooking the Lido Pool. The cabanas on Deck 11 rent for $75 per day on sea days and were fully booked when we inquired at Reception.
Our Category VT Veranda Stateroom (4031) was located on Deck 4 (Upper Promenade) forward. These staterooms can range in size from 213 to 379 sq. ft. including the balcony. Our stateroom had a pretty large balcony, even though we were not able to use it for much of the cruise (more on that later). The signature Mariner's Dream™ bed from Sealy was comfortable. The bed linens were not what we would call luxurious, but they were above average for this class of stateroom. Other than the two small drawers in the night stands, there are no other drawers for storage. There are, however, several shelves available for storage in the three floor-to-ceiling closets. An electronic safe is also included to store valuables.
Mariner's Dream bed from Sealy
There is a small love seat-sized sofa and coffee table across from a small desk/vanity/mini-bar. A cushioned cube serves as an extra storage bin as well as a desk chair. The mini-bar/fridge is stocked with soft drinks, beer and liquor for purchase. The refrigerator in our cabin didn't cool the contents very well. We placed our own bottle of wine in the fridge for three days and it barely got below room temperature. I could not find any adjustment inside the fridge to make it cooler. There is a lighted makeup mirror on a hinge, but the hinge on ours was broken making it difficult to use the mirror.
Mini-Bar/Desk/Vanity combo (storage cube/seat underneath)
The large flat screen television mounted on the wall across from the bed was very nice and Holland America has some of the best programming you will find on any cruise line. A variety of channels (BBC, MSNBC, FOX,CNBC, ESPN, ESPN2), complements a large selection of On Demand movies and television shows. DVD players are no longer needed and have been removed.
Excellent television programming choices
The bathroom places function over form. Ours had a bathtub/shower combo with pre-filled liquid dispensers for body wash, shampoo and conditioner. However, the dispenser for body wash was empty when we arrived. It was refilled the following afternoon. On the second day, the sink would not drain. We reported this to Reception, but it was not fixed for two days. After we reported it the second time to Reception, and on a mid-cruise comment card, it was fixed within hours.
Even though our stateroom had an adjoining door to the stateroom next door, it was reasonably quiet throughout the sailing. The exception was during the evening shows and afternoon rehearsals when the loud music invaded our space. Our stateroom was located just above the Showroom at Sea. There were no annoying squeaks or rattles and the HVAC system, while not silent, was not intrusively noisy. Only on the last night of the cruise could we hear the television in the stateroom next door. Our only major complaint with the stateroom revolves around Holland America's smoking policy. HAL still allows guests to smoke on their balconies, and one of our neighbors was a chain smoker. In fact, I am not sure he ever left the balcony. Every time we tried to use our balcony (which was very nice and large), we were assaulted with cigarette smoke. No smoking on balconies is a policy most other cruise lines have already implemented and it is one we would like to see Holland America adopt. At times, cigarette smoke invaded our cabin and could be smelled in the hallways.
Smoking on balconies is a policy we would like to see changed
Because of the smoking issue and a few little niggles, we would rate the stateroom a 3 out of 5 for overall comfort.
DINING & FOOD
Nieuw Amsterdam offers guests a lot of choices when it comes to dining. The main restaurant is Manhattan Dining Room on Decks 2 and 3 aft. The Manhattan serves full menu service breakfast and lunch on sea days and evening dinner every day from 5:15 to 9:00pm. Holland America still offers traditional early or late seating as well as an As You Wish option allowing guests to reserve a specific dining time of their choosing. We took advantage of the As You Wish option and found it to be a good choice for us. Our experiences in Manhattan were good. Our waiter, Adi, was excellent and we appreciate all of the attention from Hadi, the Dining Room Manager. The menus in Manhattan are varied and the dishes we were served ranged from average to good. Every now and then a dish will stand out, like my Rack of Lamb, or the Chocolate Souffle, but otherwise it is pretty standard fare.
Rack of lamb in Manhattan Dining Room was very good
The Lido Market is the ship's lido buffet located Deck 9 aft. Guests can dine here every day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. At lunch, the variety is exceptional. There is an Asian station (starboard) with dishes that change every day representing Vietnam, Thailand, China, India an Indonesia. A Mexican food station is port side. In the evening, there is a substantial pasta station making a variety of made-to-order pasta dishes. At one end of the Lido Market, sandwich lovers can find a selection of pre-made deli sandwiches in to-go bags along with a bag of chips. There is an extensive salad bar and a dessert bar with hand-dipped ice cream. We dined in Lido Market a few times and honestly, the food was okay, but nothing really stood out. One nice change is that crew members now serve all dishes from behind the serving line. We assume this is to lessen the risk of spreading Norovirus through guests' handling of serving spoons. Good idea! In fact, Holland America has really stepped up when it comes to mitigating the risks associated with potential Norovirus outbreaks. Purell hand sanitizer dispensers can be seen at the entrance of every public room on board the ship.
Canaletto is the ship's Italian-themed specialty restaurant occupying the midship port side corner of the Lido Market dining space. In the evenings, this area transforms into a romantic Italian bistro which delivered the best dish I had during the cruise. It costs only $10 per person to dine in Canaletto, making this the best specialty dining value on the ship. The Beef Short Rib Gnocchi was hands down one of the best dishes I have had on any cruise, and that was just the pasta course!
Beef Short Rib Gnocchi at Canaletto
Tamarind is the Asian-Fusion specialty restaurant located on Deck 11 midships. Dining in Tamarind will set you back $20 pp, but you get a lot of bang for the buck here, as well. Your Tamarind experience can start with a pre-dinner cocktail at Silk Road, the restaurant's Asian-themed bar/lounge located right across from Tamarind. Our dinner in Tamarind was very good. The Five-Spice BBQ ribs were my favorite starter and the Penang Curry Coconut Chicken was my favorite main course. Tamarind remains one of the better specialty restaurants on any cruise ship. And don't forget to try the Thai doughnuts for dessert!
Pinnacle Grill is Holland America's signature steak house and is the most expensive specialty restaurant at $29 pp (dinner). On several days, a lunch menu is also available here for $10 pp. Our past experiences with Pinnacle Grill have all been good ones. The restaurant is really geared toward meat lovers. You won't find a better steak anywhere for this price, so a visit to Pinnacle Grill is advised.
Of course, you can always have a pizza or burger during the day at New York Pizza (Deck 9 aft) and Dive In (Deck 9 midships).
Bar service throughout the ship is generally very good. Waiters and waitresses circulate the lounges to take orders and deliver drinks. Holland America has a long history of hiring friendly, engaging Indonesian crew members, and that tradition remains. As for the drinks themselves, we found the sweeter "designer" drinks to be lacking in alcohol content. I had a Pinã Colada that seemed to be void of rum. We ordered two Asian-themed "fruity" drinks in Silk Road and again, could not detect any alcohol. Drinks are not cheap, but not overpriced. A Dewar's White Label Scotch will set you back $6.95 + 15% gratuity, or a total of $7.99. A Pina Colada or other frozen drink costs $7.75 + tip, or $8.90 total. A glass of house champagne is a very reasonable $5.50+tip and Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) is $6.00+tip.
A Margarita is a cold, refreshing treat
The Ocean Bar (Deck 3 midships) and the Crow's Nest (Deck 11 forward) offer a daily Happy Hour from 4pm to 5pm. During this time, you can enjoy most cocktails for a 2-for-1 + $1 price. Basically, buy one and get the second one for $1. We noticed the Crow's Nest really starts filling up around 4pm with guests trying to take advantage of the offer. There are also daily drink specials for $6.50 (reduced from $7.75) that change each day. Waiters pass trays of appetizers during Happy Hour.
Holland America does offer a Signature Beverage Package for $44.95 per day/per person. With this package, you can enjoy up to 15 beverages per day. This includes beer, wine, spirits, cocktails, coffee, or soft drinks.
- The package must be purchased within the first 48 hours of the cruise
- The card can only be used on drinks that cost $8.00 or less
- A 15% service charge is not included and will be applied to purchases
- Everyone 21 and over staying the same stateroom must purchase the package
- Excludes mini-bar, Half Moon Cay and in-stateroom dining purchases
- Only one drink may be ordered at a time
- Other restrictions may apply Download PDF here
Liquor Policy: Holland America will allow guests to bring one bottle of wine per person on board during embarkation although we did see several people in line at embarkation who were carrying at least six bottles each. If you bring more than one bottle, you can pay an $18 per bottle corkage fee, or you can check the bottle and have them hold it for you until disembarkation. Guests are not allowed to bring hard liquor on board. If you purchase beer, wine or liquor in port, the ship will hold it for you until disembarkation.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
Holland America entertainment has steadily improved over the years. The production shows featuring the Nieuw Amsterdam singers and dancers were well produced and choreographed. The shows have integrated some of the Cirque du Soleil-like stunts that have become so popular. The Showroom at Sea theater is comfortable with good acoustics, but there are sight line issues with some seats due to large support columns. Best advice is to arrive early and get a good seat.
Nieuw Amsterdam Singers and Dancers
The guest entertainers we saw were very good with the MacDonald Brothers from Scotland being our favorite show.
Cruise Director, Mario, and his staff do an impressive job of providing a wide variety of daytime activities throughout the cruise. There is always something going on somewhere around the ship. The Digital Workshop is a unique venue that offers a variety of classroom instruction on Windows 10, digital photography, photo editing, etc. The classes are free and very well conducted.
SPA & FITNESS CENTER
The Greenhouse Spa is located on Deck 9 forward, as is the well-equipped fitness center. A Thallasotherapy pool is good for a relaxing soak, but there is a cost involved. If you want access to sauna, steam and Thallasotherapy, prepare to invest about $129 per person/per week for the privilege. If you just want to soak one day, it is $40/pp. When we sailed on Nieuw Amsterdam in 2010, it was only $10 to use the wet area. Who says there's no inflation? Of course, if you book a massage or other spa treatment, the sauna/steam/Thallasotherapy is part of the deal for that day. The Greenhouse Spa offers a complete menu of massage therapies, scrubs and other treatments to make you look and feel your best. There is a complete beauty salon, too.
Nieuw Amsterdam offers guests a variety of Internet/Wi-Fi plans, as follows:
- 600 minutes for $199
- 400 minutes for $159
- 200 minutes for $99
- 30 minutes for $19
- Unlimited for $249
The Internet service was slow, as you may expect aboard a cruise ship. Connections to the Internet were reliable, but the system automatically logs you out every 15 minutes or so, requiring you to log in again. That can be pretty annoying when working on a long document online only to have all your work lost when you go to post your changes. I soon learned to copy the contents of emails or other documents to the clipboard before posting. We purchased the Unlimited Plan ($249) (we do a lot of blogging and Tweeting from the ship). Wi-Fi connections were available throughout the ship, as well as in our stateroom. I was annoyed that my $249 Internet package was shut off at midnight the night before disembarkation. That meant I could not check email, post a blog, or check on our airline gate information on the morning of disembarkation. In our opinion, the Internet service is still way overpriced for what you get, and that is not unique to Holland America. But, I guess as long as people continue to pay it, let the market decide. We also had difficulty printing our boarding passes the day before disembarkation.
Early morning blogging from Explorations Cafe
The mostly Indonesian crew aboard Holland America ships has a long-standing reputation for friendly service. More than anything else, this has earned Holland America a fierce loyalty from repeat guests. Every crew member with whom we interacted was warm, smiling, and eager to serve. Our Manhattan Dining Room waiter, Adi, was very efficient and delivered excellent service. Dining Room Manager, Hadi, was the first to greet us when we boarded and made sure we had a table reserved each evening. The Reception staff was also very friendly and helpful. It was the norm to be greeted by crew as you passed by anywhere on the ship.
Holland America has traditionally appealed to an older demographic. However, this is an image that the company has been attempting to change over the past several years. You will see many more families, younger couples and 40-somethings on today's Holland America than in years past. The demographics of this particular cruise did lean toward an older crowd, most likely because kids are in school this time of year. There were a few families with small children, but very few.
Cruising is much more casual than it was 20 years ago. And, Holland America reflects that trend. They have even re-branded "Formal Night", now calling it "Gala". It is not so much a change in policy as it is a new name to more accurately reflect the acceptable attire on "dressy" nights. On "Gala Dress" night, we saw only a few tuxedos, many more suits and ties, and even more sport coats with ties. There were even a considerable number of men with polo shirts or dress shirts, with no jacket. The times they are a-changin'.
On Smart Casual nights, we even saw shorts in the Manhattan Dining Room! I think we are heading toward a time where there will be no dress code.
The Western Caribbean is a good itinerary, especially for first-time cruisers. Grand Cayman is overcrowded because of all the large cruise ships anchored here on nearly every day of the week. But, there are some great excursions available here. George Town is also a good place to just get off the ship's tender and walk around, and, perhaps do a little shopping. Cozumel is crowded as well, but well worth a visit and a look-see. Both locations offer good snorkeling, scuba and a variety of other water sports. There is not as much to do in Key West, but it is still a pleasant town to walk around and explore. The highlight of a Holland America Western Caribbean cruise is the visit to Half Moon Cay, the cruise line's private island in the Bahamas. There are two days at sea on this itinerary to break up the port calls. You can read our day-by-day cruise blog here.
The beach at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Here's a little tip: The blue "clam shell" shaded loungers shown in the picture are available for rent, and they sell out quickly. Pre-book these online through the Holland America website before your cruise!
This was our fifth Holland America cruise, and the good news is, not much has changed. The line remains squarely in the middle of the mainstream cruise line pack. What distinguishes Holland America from other cruise lines is a large fleet of ships that can take you to every corner of the world. Combine that worldwide reach with a reputation for friendly, warm service and you can quickly see why so many people come back year after year to sail with HAL. Holland America is a good cruise line with a great reputation.
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