While some cruise lines are testing the waters with wow-factor rides and showy slides on their newest ships, Holland America Line is sticking to its traditional, successful style. On its newest vessel, Nieuw Amsterdam, HAL lives up to its premium status, as the cruise line continues to upgrade enrichment courses and menus and expand restaurant choices.
Holland America describes the 2,100-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam as midsize. The designation seems like a bit of a stretch until you compare it to the ships of 3,000 and 4,000 passengers, introduced by other, competing premium lines. Despite its girth, Nieuw Amsterdam feels like a midsize ship. However, if your cabin, like mine, is at the aft end, you may want to pack a sandwich for your trek to the Crow's Nest, on Deck 11 at the bow.
Passengers will find friendly service and top-quality dining. The staff, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, is well trained. With the addition of the Master Chef's Table, which serves an outstanding tasting dinner in its own classy room, Nieuw Amsterdam now offers four different gourmet menus, including those found at the Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind and the weekly Le Cirque presentation. When mixed with fine-dining experiences in the other restaurants, passengers can count on a variety of choices for longer cruises in Europe and back-to-back voyages in the winter season to the Eastern and Western Caribbean.
Plus, thanks to a huge collection of artwork and welcome design changes from its sister Eurodam, the ship is much easier on the eye than its sibling.
This was my second sailing on a ship called Nieuw Amsterdam, as Holland America has launched ships with that name in 1906, 1938, 1983 and 2010. I found occasional faults on the newest of the Nieuws. The Lido restaurant is over-tabled and, thus, too crowded at peak dining hours, which diminishes the sparkling style of this buffet restaurant. I smelled cigarette smoke in areas like the Showroom, where it wasn't allowed or appreciated, and wished the line would do more to enforce smoking rules or force fresh air into areas with a staler atmosphere.
Despite these minor gripes, I found Nieuw Amsterdam to be a warm, comfortable and friendly ship that speaks to Holland America's steady but subtle climb in style and substance during the past half-dozen years. Cruisers looking for familiar Holland America -- a traditional vacation at sea with such standards as two dress-up nights per week in the main dining room, fancy afternoon teas and evening dancing to a string quartet -- will have their expectations met.
Positive design changes from sister ship Eurodam -- elimination of some walls and more simple furniture -- are particularly evident at midship on Deck 1, where the front office has expanded into what was a bar on Eurodam. (Desk folks, too, have improved measurably on their can-do politeness.) You'll notice changes again on Deck 3, where the Ocean Bar is now a more inviting place to hang out and dance before and after dinner. From Deck 1, passengers can see the impressive Manhattan skyline sculpture that hangs upside down. From Deck 3, they can see a mirror image, the same sculpture pointed skyward. Deck 3 is also home to shops that sell souvenirs, jewelry and typical cruise clothing; a photo gallery; and meeting rooms. The shore excursion desk is on Deck 1.
New York was known as Nieuw Amsterdam by its Dutch founders. Except for the Manhattan Restaurant, which hardly feels Manhattan-ish (perhaps the nifty yellow taxi in the children's area should be moved downstairs), the New York theme works well throughout the ship, especially in the art collection. I spent hours in hallways and stairwells looking at old pictures and prints of Manhattan and its maritime history, well detailed in an iPod guided art tour that is available free.
Deck 11 is home to the Crow's Nest and Explorations Cafe, which combines a coffee house (items for a fee), computers for surfing the Internet, a card room and library. Cost for computer use is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy 100 minutes for $55.
There is no self-service laundry room onboard.
Standard inside, outside and balcony cabins range in size from 175 to 200 square feet, with two beds that convert to a very comfortable queen.
Windowless inside cabins have two basic designs but at least three different sizes: 175, 185 and 200 square feet. The larger cabins are more of an L shape and feel particularly roomy. Outside cabins without balconies are 185 square feet. Verandah cabins are 200 square feet inside, most with balconies of 54 square feet. There are also 10, Curved Verandah cabins with balconies of only 22 square feet.
Each cabin includes a small sofa and sitting area; an adjustable table big enough for two at breakfast; a desk; a stocked fridge with soda, beer, wine and whiskey for sale; and a safe. Closets have sufficient space, though without drawers. Each cabin has at least three storage units. One has shelves and a lower space for hanging shorter clothes. Two other units may be adjusted from hanging closets to large shelves for folded items. Cabins have two side tables; each has two small drawers and a shelf. One of the drawers in each side table can be locked, so roommates might each have a lockable drawer with a key that does not open the other. Beyond the closets, there are two drawers under the beds, though in my cabin, the cleaning crew used these drawers for stored blankets and a decorative bedcover that was stowed below at nightly turndown. A cabin supervisor responded that these drawers often are used by the cleaning crews, but that passengers may ask for the drawers to be emptied for their use.
Cabins with balconies each come equipped with two chairs (one straight-backed, one rounded) and a footstool -- all of which look like brown wicker but, for fire safety reasons, are actually plastic -- and a tiny table that would hold about two drinks. Each chair has a foam cushion.
All cabins have flat-screen televisions that offer a typical range of channels, including news, movies and Holland America promotional programming. The ship offers more than 1,000 movies at no charge; they may be viewed on your cabin television, available one movie at a time. The daily movie shown in the cinema also is available the next day on your television. There is no interactive system for booking shore tours or spa treatments.
While the 156 inside cabins on Nieuw Amsterdam have showers only, all of the other accommodations have at least a combination bathtub and shower. Amenities, including shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, are from Elemis, the company that operates the ship's spa. Except for the body lotion, they are dispensed from containers attached to shower walls.
Nieuw Amsterdam is the first Holland America ship with a power cutoff at the cabin door, similar to the process in hotel rooms in Europe. When passengers enter their cabins, they place their cabin key cards into wall slots that turn on the power. When they leave their rooms, they take the cards out of the slots, which turns off all the power, except for highly useful directional reading lights on either side of the beds. (Note: This can be a problem if you want to charge electronics in your room when you're not there.) Not only do these adjustable reading lights work well for couples who go to sleep at different times -- allowing one person to read in bed with a strong light, while the other sleeps in near darkness -- but they also can provide a softly lighted room when you return from dinner. A tip: When you leave your room at night, perhaps to go to dinner, either open the cabin door before you pull the key card from the slot, or turn on one of the reading lights; otherwise, suddenly, you will find yourself in a room so dark you can't see even the cabin door handle.
My verandah cabin (confusingly called deluxe, though there are no standard verandah cabins) was roomy enough for two, as long as neither would be standing at the closets while the other wanted to get to the bathroom or leave the cabin, as an open closet door filled the entry space. I felt at home in my cabin, with its three playful prints on the wall, a chair with a back that I used to sit at the desk and a comfy couch with more stuffing than in those found on most ships.
Staterooms designated as Spa cabins are spread across two decks. Spa cabins are designed with soothing natural colors and are equipped with yoga mats and healthier in-cabin dining menus. Occupants have access to a concierge for booking spa treatments, but no spa treatments are included in the fares.
Of the 1,053 cabins onboard, 114 are suites. They come in three styles -- Superior, Deluxe and Penthouse -- and all have larger balconies and sofa beds. Bathrooms feature full-size whirlpool tubs, separate shower stalls and double vanities. The 50 Superior Verandah Suites are 300 square feet with 98-square-foot balconies. Each is the equivalent of a cabin and a half in width, with a large sitting area that includes a sofa bed for one person, chairs and a large desk. The 62 Deluxe Verandah Suites measure 380 to 570 square feet, each with a 130-square-foot balcony. These suites, each the equivalent of two standard cabins in width, include king-size beds (convertible to twins), large living areas with chairs and sofa beds big enough for two people and separate dressing rooms.
The most elaborate accommodations are two 1,000-square-foot Penthouse Verandah Suites. Each has separate sleeping and living quarters, a dressing room, a powder room, a butler's pantry with refrigerator and microwave and a 318-square-foot balcony with four lounge chairs, an eating table for four and a whirlpool tub.
Occupants of the suites are given perks that include breakfast each morning in the Pinnacle Grill (same menu as the Manhattan), free laundry and dry-cleaning and priority tender boarding. These passengers also have access to the Neptune Lounge, a private living room area on Deck 7 with beverages and snacks throughout the day, a computer and a concierge.
Much of the action onboard takes place on Decks 2 and 3, between entrances to the Showroom at the bow and Manhattan at the aft. There, you'll find bars, lounges, the casino, a 36-seat cinema and rooms for culinary and computer classes. Deck 11 is home to my favorite bar, the slinky Silk Den, which offers a great view of the sea.
If you want to learn about cooking, entertaining, technology or health, this is the ship for you. Holland America leads the cruising world with opportunities for classes in its Culinary Arts Center, built like the set of a television show and presented by Food & Wine magazine. There is also a free Digital Workshop in partnership with Microsoft. On my cruise, the computer and digital camera classes were packed full. Most are daytime classes, and most are free, with the exceptions of food classes with alcohol and some sessions at the Greenhouse Spa.
At night, the three-deck, 890-seat Showroom at Sea presents Las Vegas-style revues and guest performers like a comedic magician. The smoky casino on Deck 2, with the usual game tables and slot machines, is often busy and filled with the sound of "ca-ching ca-chinging."
The ship's multiple lounges -- the Queen's Lounge, Ocean Bar, Piano Bar, Explorer's Lounge, Crow's Nest and Northern Lights -- are full of opportunities to play games (perhaps trivia or liar's club), listen to music (everything from Motown to classical) and dance. One evening, the bar staff leads a pub crawl ($20 per person), which includes four drinks. The Ocean Bar was packed before dinner, the Piano Bar later in the evening. On some late nights, the Northern Lights disco was abuzz; on other nights, it was empty.
Note: Holland America publishes my favorite daily newsletter, clearly and cleanly designed to help passengers plan their days. One portion is easily detached to carry around with all the times for events, meals and the movie of the day shown in the cinema.
As for shore excursions, in addition to the usual offerings, Holland America features some relatively new alternatives, including zip-lining in Puerto Rico and fishing with a guide at Grand Turk.
The ship adds $11.50 per person, per day, to shipboard accounts. Passengers may adjust the amount. A 15 percent charge is added to all bar bills.
Holland America ships tend to draw families with children during summer and school holidays. Children's programs, supervised for ages 3 to 12, take place in Club HAL on Deck 10, with a separate Loft area for teens, which is equipped with stuffed chairs and sofas, games and video-editing equipment. A game room and arcade are also accessible from this kids' area.
There is no signage, but the understanding is that the aft Sea View pool is for adults only.
HAL ships tend to appeal to a mature crowd, with a mix of North Americans and Europeans.
During the day, dress is casual. In the evenings, dress is categorized either as smart casual or formal. Smart casual for men is slacks and a collared shirt and perhaps a jacket (not required). For women, it's a skirt or trousers and sweater or blouse. Formal is a tuxedo, dark suit or jacket and tie for men, and a suit, cocktail dress or gown for women. In the Lido, on formal night, I saw men dressed in jackets and ties, while others were in sports shirts. There are two formal nights each week.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Once you climb to Deck 9, you may want to stay for the day. It's home to the Greenhouse Spa, the main midship Lido pool (with three hot tubs) -- which can all be covered by a retractable magrodome roof in inclement weather -- and the Sea View Bar and adults-only pool (with two hot tubs) at the aft.
For privacy, curtained cabanas line one windowed wall of the Lido. They each contain a chaise lounge for two and small table. They can be rented for $30 for the day when the ship is in port or $50 on sea days. The price includes beverage and lunch services, as well as iPods uploaded with music. More exclusive are the cabanas in the private Cabana Club, which overlooks the Lido Deck from Deck 11. These are large, open-air tents that are furnished like living rooms with dining tables. Available by day or by the week, they tend to be booked up before the cruise at $45 to $115 per day, depending on size. Corner units are the largest.
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon offers all the usual services, such as massages, facials and pedicures. Its relaxation room is a treat, with a quiet view of the sea -- reason enough to come early for your massage and leave late. It also offers a thermal suite, hydro pool and sauna. The adjacent fitness center, which features circuit-training machines and free weights, offers sunrise stretches each morning at 7 a.m. Many of the fitness classes are free. A few -- yoga, Pilates, spinning -- cost $12.
Volleyball and basketball courts can be found on Deck 11. The outside promenade on Deck 3 is perfect for a brisk walk, as it goes all the way around the ship.
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