November 2014 - Nieuw Amsterdam to Caribbean
This cruise was the first “collector” cruise we’ve taken and the fourth on HAL. We’ve cruised on several other lines including Celebrity, Princess, Norwegian and Carnival. Celebrity and HAL are our favorites, as they seem to fit the more classic, classy and laid back cruise experience we prefer. Previously on HAL we were on the Zaandam, Zuiderdam and Noordam and enjoyed them all.
Who is HAL & the N.A. going to appeal to?
Middle-aged to older cruisers or vacationers looking for a quieter, laid back classic cruise experience with warm, friendly service and a professional staff on one of the world’s most experienced cruise lines. Plenty of fun or just plenty of relaxation – you’re choice.
Itinerary & Ports:
The itinerary was interesting as it was basically two cruises back to back starting in Ft. Lauderdale and doing the Eastern Caribbean for a week, followed by a return to Ft. Lauderdale then out to the Western Caribbean for a week. Ports included Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay (private island), San Juan, St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Key West. We were scheduled to stop at Half Moon Cay twice – once on the return during week one and once on the outbound to the western Caribbean on week two.
The ports all provided a good range of things to do and see. We’d been to St. Thomas before but being there on a major US Holiday (Thanksgiving) is to be avoided. Many things were closed and the shop vendors all seemed to have been forced to stay open for cruise passengers. Overall not a great experience on that day.
Grand Turk has a small shopping village and a beach at the pier but otherwise you need an excursion or tour to really see anything. It’s not a walk-off and wander stop so much. We hiked El Yunque rain forest when we stopped in San Juan and loved it. Bring rain gear! It’s a lot of fun and the sites are beautiful. Mayan ruins shouldn’t be missed in Cozumel or the beautiful Mexican Riviera beaches. Grand Cayman’s dolphin encounter was a lot of fun but the gem for me is the Turtle Farm. It’s been expanded over the years and you can easily spend a day there. Key West never disappoints - something for everyone.
I’m not sure I’d do this kind of back-to-back itinerary again. The stop back in Ft. Lauderdale felt a little odd and an unnatural break in the flow of the trip – it felt a bit like once cruise stopped and another started. Though we loved being on the ship for two weeks I think we’d both prefer a continuous itinerary every if shorter like a 10 or 12 day.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is what’s considered a mid-sized ship. It was clean, well kept and very nicely appointed with artwork celebrating New York City history and the various incarnations of the ships in the HAL fleet that have borne the Nieuw Amsterdam name over the years. Aside from the usual business of the Lido Restaurant the ship doesn’t feel crowded.
We could always find a seat by the pool, in the lounges, at the shows etc. The wrap-around Promenade deck is something we really enjoy. It’s great to grab a chair and read, listen to music or just watch the ocean go by on what’s a nice quiet deck closer to the waves. We found plenty of nice lounges or quiet places to sit insides, lots of open air decks outside to suit our mood each day.
Out stateroom was well maintained and with the exception of the temperature, it was very comfortable. We had the temperature control to full cold for two weeks and don’t think it ever got below 68-70. If you like it warm you’ll be fine but we found it hard to stop sweating enough after showering to get dressed in formal wear comfortably, and sleeping at night was an exercise in kicking covers off.
Otherwise the room appointments were spacious and nicely laid out (we had a verandah cabin on the Upper Promenade deck port-side aft). Stateroom attendants were exceptional, as we’ve come to expect on HAL. Kept the room tidy and always friendly, asking us how we were doing, what we needed etc. The verandah was especially roomy – no hitting the furniture with the door on the way in or out.
Dining was a bit of a mixed bag. By far the best food we’ve had on the five cruise lines we’ve been on was on Celebrity. HAL seems to have upped their game a bit over the years but could still use some improvement.
My wife is vegetarian and has a specific food allergy; she found the vegetarian options, while providing a reasonable number of choices, unimaginative and frankly boring. The dining staff was awesome and worked with her every day to do everything they could to make it more enjoyable for her.
I am not vegetarian and have no food allergies; for me the options were reasonable in number and the food quality, while not what we experienced on Celebrity, was still very good. Dishes were varied each night so you usually had a chicken, fish and red meat option, often a pasta dish, always one vegetarian option on the main menu. I should mention there was a separate vegetarian menu with more options as well but the vegetarian menu was the same for the entire cruise.
We were on for two weeks and the menu essentially repeated itself after a week, so it could have used more variety in that regard. We’ve been on cruises over 12 nights before and never had a repeating menu before.
The only specialty restaurant we tried was the Tamarind – the Asian restaurant. It was reasonably priced at if I recall $20 each. You ate a lot and the food was noticeably more varied and of better quality than the main dining room. We prefer the main dining room since we enjoy the nightly coming of our waiters, but I’d recommend at least once doing the Tamarind in a 7-day trip. Lunch is served as well and is slightly less expensive.
Lido dining was typical of most lines - bustling, a bit busy but with a wide variety of choices every day. Lunch had an International station that rotated Indian, Japanese, Indonesian and predominantly Asian cuisines and included sushi most if not all the time. It was a solid choice that we used most of the time. A pasta station and Mexican station were daily staples that were both good. A carving/sandwich station, salad stations and other hot food stations (we didn’t try them so I don’t recall what they were) were also available so the choices gave you plenty of options. Quality was very good and service, as it usually is all over a HAL ship, was very good to excellent.
The Dive-In Grill by the Lido pool was surprisingly good. My wife had a Portobello mushroom burger that was good enough she tried it more than once. They have a variety of burger, hot dog and French fry options – it was probably the best grill of its kind we’ve had on any ship. Rather than have you stand in line they give you a pager so you can wander a bit until it buzzes and your order is ready, though that was generally a short 5-10 minute wait even when they were busy.
Pizza station by the aft pool was very good. The pizza chef there when told about my wife’s food allergies made us custom pies – very much appreciated! Their stock options everyday was varied and usually had at least 4-6 choices.
Coffee and tea (for a fee) in the Explorer’s Café were very good. I’ll admit I’m a coffee snob and don’t much dig the standard coffee served in the Lido on most ships, but even that wasn’t bad on the Nieuw Amsterdam. The library is next to the café and is a great place to sit, relax, read and drink coffee. The library was the best stocked we’ve ever seen. Nice job HAL! If you forgot to bring books or load up the Kindle, you’ll still be fine.
We used the fitness center quite a bit and found it well stocked with a variety of equipment. Free weights, machines of all shapes and sized, stationary bikes (recumbent and upright), spinners, yoga area and plenty of treadmills were to be found there. We never waited to use anything. Aside from a climate control issue – we found it a little warm and without enough air movement – it’s a solid fitness center with a nice view outside from the equipment around the perimeter of the room.
Embarkation and Debarkation:
Great and probably the most seamless we’ve ever had. We were on the ship within 15 minutes of getting to the pier and our luggage was at the room with plenty of time to unpack before the lifeboat drill and explore the ship. Debarkation day we were allowed to hang out in our rooms until our group was called, room service was provided and once our number was called we went down and were off the ship in less than 10 minutes. HAL really has their act together getting you on and off without a hassle.
We had a great time; I’d recommend HAL, the Nieuw Amsterdam and Caribbean itinerary and we’d certainly consider doing it again in the future. We tend to match the cruise line we like based on demographics, your fellow passengers, the style and size of the ship (while not opposed to big ships – we’ve been on Celebrity’s Solstice class ships twice – we have to interest in the Gargantuan of the Seas or anything carrying 4000-5000 people not to mention Crew) and what overall experience they cater to.
We’re not into flowriders, zip lines or rock climbing at sea. The hard drinkers on some cruise lines don’t appeal much to us either. We’ve settled on Celebrity and Holland primarily as our favorites (Princess occasionally as well). HAL has always been a solid choice and doesn’t disappoint. If the above sounds good to you and you haven’t already, give them a shot. I think you’ll be pleased with the experience.