Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
10/28/17 to 11/4/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 3 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 –  Embarkation, Ship, Dining, Entertainment, Activities 
Page 2 -  Ship (contd), Cabin, Dining, Entertainment, Activities, Ports of Call:  Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
Page 3 - Ports of Call:  Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Disembarkation

 

Ship (Continued)

Shops – There were several different shops on board.  They had a nice selection and there was something for everyone.  Of course, they had tables out during the day for special sales; but not as many as some other cruise lines.  The tables also didn’t disrupt the traffic flow.  The Voyager Shop is the largest and is composed of several rooms with different types of merchandise.

   

   

   

Several other stores focused on jewelry and watches.

   

   

Merabella is their fine jewelry store.  I did find it strange I never saw any salespeople there.  Perhaps it was only by appointment.  They did have some beautiful pieces on display.

   

Artwork & Decorations – With the Nieuw Amsterdam having an old New York City theme, most of the pictures around the ship were old photographs.  But they did have a lot pieces that I wanted to remember, so I am putting photos of them below.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

Probably one of the most popular pieces was a strange three dimensional piece of a library.  People were regularly standing around looking at it from different angles, since you could see the rows of books extending further into the picture. Unfortunately, it was quite difficult to get photos of the picture; but at least you can see what was attracting attention.

   

 

Cabin

When we booked this cruise, we were just looking for a quick getaway before the holidays, so I booked an Oceanview cabin on deck one.  About a month before the cruise, we received an upgrade offer to a verandah cabin for $169 pp.  We passed on it.  Then 12 days later, we got another offer to upgrade for $129 pp.  It was still not that attractive to us.  Then a week later, 10 days before the cruise started, we got an offer for $79 pp.  We couldn’t pass it up, especially, since we assumed that with the itinerary changes, we would probably be spending more time in the cabin than we planned.  We had cabin 8110, which was on the port side close to the rear elevator.  It was a very good location, since I could walk up one flight of stairs to the front of the Lido buffet and go down six decks on the elevator to the front of the main dining room. 

The cabin size is advertised as 174 square feet with a 46-square foot balcony.  This is a small cabin; but it was quite adequate for us.  With the bed being close to the door, I had to lift Carol’s TravelScoot over the bed to store it near the veranda door; but that was the only inconvenience.  The layout of the room was quite comfortable and provided adequate storage and ample closet space.  We thought that there wasn't enough drawer space in the cabin, with just two small drawers in each night stand.  We have since found out that there were two large drawers at the end of the bed.  Had I realized they were there, I would have included a photo.  The small couch was quite comfortable and used regularly.

   

   

   

The desk had two American and two European power outlets.  It is always a good idea to bring European plug adapters, so you have 4 useable outlets.  Under the desk was an ottoman that could also be used for storage when the top was lifted off.  Kind of a good idea; but we didn’t need it for this cruise.

   

The bathroom felt larger than many we have been in on ships.  This is probably due to it having a full-size bathtub in it.  I originally thought that having a bathtub in a small cabin was kind of a waste of space; but I quickly changed my mind.  It was really nice to have so much room to take a shower in, rather than the small stalls used for a shower on other lines.

   

The verandah was larger than the advertised 46 square feet.  With it being seven feet deep, it was very nice verandah.  The views from the verandah weren’t too obstructed either.  With our cabin being right under the Lido buffet, there was a good size overhang.  With our having some bad weather early in the cruise, it was most helpful in protecting us from the rain; and it also protected the verandah from sun in mid-day.

   

   

   

We had two cabin attendants, Jono and Irmawan, both from Indonesia.  They did a great job of keeping the room clean and made up; but I rarely saw them.  This probably means they did their job in stealth mode, which is a good thing.

My only complaint about the cabin was noise from above.  I would normally not choose a cabin under a restaurant or bar; but upgraders can’t be choosey.   I am not sure what was causing the noise around 10:30 PM each night; but it sounded like waves splashing against the walls.  With our being up 8 decks, we knew it wasn’t waves; but that is what it sounded like.  With there being dining tables above us, we didn’t expect noises like that.  We also heard what sounded like carts rolling across the floor in the morning; but that was to be expected.

One thing that I didn’t care for was that we had to put a key card into a slot by the door to keep the electricity on.  Since we only had one key card each, that didn’t work out too well, so I inserted a AAA card that solved the problem.  When the attendants cleaned the cabin, they would lift the card up to turn off the electricity.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take my card out when we left the ship.  One of the reasons I used that card, was that I could forget it.  I didn’t mind losing it as much as others, since I have a duplicate in the AAA app on my iPhone if I need it.  It is also easy to replace.

There was also another black plastic object on the wall near the door, with an illuminated green light on it.  There was a switch that turned it on and off, so I wanted to know what it was for.  Our cabin attendant told me that it is an emergency light that will come on if the power goes out.  I left it switched on.

Dining (Link to Menus)
I have included copies of the menus for the main dining room and other restaurants, along with photos of some of the food items at the Menus link just above and at the top of each page of the review.

Dining is a major reason why some people chose to cruise on specific lines.  There are many other reasons, of course, but if a line has food that is perceived to be better than another line, it does make a difference.  Of our 48 cruises, 22 have been on Celebrity, which is perceived to have some of the best food on major large ship cruise lines.  Their food is certainly not always wonderful; but it is normally quite good.  People that cruise HAL regularly feel the same way.  On our first HAL cruise we were impressed with the food, so we were looking forward to cruising with them again.
 
For dinners, we booked anytime dining in the main dining room, since we prefer to eat around 6:00 PM when on a cruise.  We normally book fixed seating on cruises, since they normally start around 6:00 PM; but with HAL, it starts at 5:15 PM, too early for us.  When going to the main dining room at 6:00 PM each evening, we never had to wait to be seated.  We did choose to eat at shared tables, which probably helped.  We never did eat in the main dining room for breakfast or lunch, since the Lido buffet was quite good and had a better selection.

For purposes of this review, I will compare HAL’s main dining room evening food with Celebrity’s, since this is a question that is frequently asked on the Cruise Critic forums.  Both lines offer 7 pre-main course choices of appetizers, soups or salads.  However, Celebrity also has four items that are available everyday compared to HAL’s two.  Both have French onion soup and Caesar salad as an option.  But Celebrity also has shrimp cocktail or escargot available every night, which are nice options.  Someone at our table did ask for a shrimp cocktail one night when it wasn’t on the menu and they did receive it.  So perhaps it is something that isn’t listed but still available.   Another plus for Celebrity is that they have wonderful bread sticks each night; but both lines have good bread choices.

I did think that the soups were just outstanding and better than the ones we have had recently on Celebrity.  That is except for the French onion soup, that was just not very good.  This is important, since it is available every day.  It didn’t have many onions in it or much cheese on it; and the flavor wasn’t what I am used to.  On the other hand, they had the best escargot one night that I have ever had on any line.  Other than those two items, the rest of the pre-main courses I had were pretty equal.

HAL has 8 main course choices compared to Celebrity’s 6, which is an important difference.  Both lines have three every night items of steak, salmon and chicken.  I found the food quality to be pretty similar between both lines; however, we only ate in the main dining room for six nights, so we don’t have as much experience with them as with Celebrity.  My opinion will be more meaningful after our 22-day cruise in January on the Zaandam, when we will be able to try food from all of their menus.  Celebrity has 14 menus that they rotate throughout their cruises.  I don’t know how many HAL has; but I will find out soon.   Bottom line is that I didn’t find much difference in food quality between the two lines, and will happily cruise on either of them, as far as dining is concerned.

 

Entertainment

I went to each evening’s entertainment in the main theater.  Our Cruise Director, Andrew Levitt, did a nice job without being silly or talking too much to try to impress the audience.  He was also very available during the day and engaging with the guests whenever I saw him.  I did talk with him a couple times during the cruise and he was a pleasure to converse with.  

   

Prior to the first production show, Captain Jeroen van Donselar lead a toast welcoming everyone to the cruise.

Performers – With this being a seven-day cruise, with two production shows, that left five nights for other entertainment.  The first night was a preview show that introduced us to what we would see during the cruise, with samples from the production shows and other activities on the ship.

Island Magic – This act was a steel band playing Broadway and classical music.  It sounded like a strange combination; but this is one of the most enjoyable acts I have ever seen on a cruise; and I have seen a lot of them.  It was truly amazing to hear songs from Cats, Evita and Phantom of the Opera played on steel drums, along with various familiar classical music.  The sounds were just lovely and so pleasing.  In addition to a regular drummer, there were two men and a woman playing different types of steel drums. 

 

   

   

   

The interaction amongst them and their energy in their performances was such a pleasure to experience.  After each piece, the audience gave very long periods of clapping.  They even had something I had never seen before on a cruise ship, a standing ovation during the show, not just at the end.  If you ever get a chance to see them, don’t miss it.  

   

   

   

They also did an encore performance the last night of the cruise; as well as a session in the Crow’s Nest where they discussed the development of the group and showed us how their instruments work.  It was also a standing room only event.

   

Frozen Planet Live – This act was described as a visual and musical journey that combines live music from the ship’s band with breathtaking footage from BBC’s Frozen Planet series.  Since I had seen the Frozen Planet shows at home, I almost didn’t go to this show.  But I try to at least spend a few minutes at each show to be able to put something about all shows in our reviews.  The video portion of the show was put together by BBC and was designed for the cruise ship audience.  There was a narrative describing the upcoming scene.  Then a beautiful segment from Frozen Planet was shown, that was accompanied by the band playing very nice music to complement the video.  I was very surprised at how well the band played.  It sounded like a professional symphony orchestra; but with less instruments.  I was glad I went, since it was much better than expected.

   

Tyler Bryce – Tyler is an impressionist that sang songs in famous musician’s voices.  He would change the lyrics of the song to make them funny.  He also did some impressions of famous actors in silly skits.   He was very animated and surprisingly limber.  Some of his stuff was pretty funny; but I just didn’t find his impressions to be that much like the real people.  Much of the audience really liked him and laughed and clapped for him; so, I guess that I was in the minority.  But if an impressionist doesn’t sound like who he is impersonating, I am disappointed.  When Andrew introduced him, he said “if you close your eyes, you will think the real person is here.”  Unfortunately, when I closed my eyes, I didn’t have the slightest idea who he was impersonating.  He also did an encore appearance the last night of the cruise that he shared with Island Magic.

   

   

Production Shows – HAL is not known for having very good production shows.  With many of the ships being smaller, it does limit what they can do and reduces the size of the entertainment staff.  The shows were better than I was expecting; but still not great.  Other lines have much better staging, props and outfits that make for a more glamorous and interesting show.  They also have more cast members.  Our cast had 3 singers and 10 dancers.

Off the Charts – This was described as a concert of hits from Elvis to Beyoncé.  I loved the music selection in the show.  They played music that had been on the top of the Billboard music charts from the 50’s to current days.  There was some dancing during the show; but the main focus was the singing.   Unfortunately, some of the singers just weren’t that good in this show.  I guess they had an off night.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

1000 Steps – This show was about dancing, which they did a pretty good job of doing.  The music selection wasn’t as appealing to me as the first show; but the singers did much better.  Perhaps they just seemed better, since I wasn’t familiar with all the music like I was during the first show.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

Activities

Overall, I was disappointed in the limited number of activities that were available during sea days.  I had thought that HAL would have several enrichment speakers; but they had none.  There were a few short talks by the excursion desk personnel; some of them focused on port excursions.  They did have one about the pirates of the Caribbean and another about books about the Caribbean, which were OK; but the speaker was basically reading the material from a script.  I much prefer having professional speakers that put their personal experiences and passion into their talks.

Navigator App – I was very impressed with the HAL Navigator App.  I put it on my iPhone the first day after reading about it on a handout in the cabin.  There is no charge to use the ship’s Wi-Fi when using the app.  Below is the home page of the app.  From it, you can do all kinds of things, including booking tours and dinner reservations.  The most valuable thing to me was that the day’s activities were all shown in it, including some that weren’t on the printed list. If there was an activity I was interested in, I could click it and add it to the My Itinerary page.  With that list, I could see everything that I planned on doing for the day.  It was very handy to have.  Much better than carrying around a paper copy.  It also showed the main dining room dinner menu in afternoon, that was very good to be able to see.

Since you could not see the status of your shipboard account on TV, this was the best place to check it out, rather than going to guest relations for a copy.   The Navigator app is a very useful thing to have when on a HAL cruise.

Cruise Critic Meet and Greet (www.cruisecritic.com) -  HAL doesn’t have a formal program like Celebrity has with Cruise Critic for what is called a Meet and Mingle.  In order to have a meeting of people that you have conversed with on a Cruise Critic roll call forum, someone has to contact HAL to get one set up.  And that individual has to notify everyone about the date, time and place of the event.  Where Celebrity has a web page for you to sign up.  Celebrity then leaves a note in your cabin to let you know when and where the event is taking place.  The Cruise Director, officers and even the Captain might show up to greet everyone. 

The person who set ours up, Jim, did a fine job of getting people to let him know if they would attend the meet and greet; as well as letting them know when and where it was being held. 

He had over 30 people sign up; but when the time came only 13 people showed up.  We did have a nice time and got to meet folks that we have been chatting with; but it was a shame that we didn’t have a better showing.  I guess it was good that HAL doesn’t send any representatives to the meet and greet, since they would have been disappointed that we had such a small group.

   

Halloween – With Halloween occurring during our cruise, the ship had some interesting decorations and some special drinks for the day.

   

They also had a Halloween costume event in the BB King Lounge at 9:30 PM.  I couldn’t believe how many people showed up in costume.  The place was full, and CD Andrew introduced each person or couple individually.  It took a long time; but was entertaining and fun for the group.  A couple we met at dinner one night also attended the event. 

   

   

Chocolate Parade – On the last formal night, the ship had a chocolate parade.  At 9:30 PM, restaurant staff started from the main dining room on deck 2, carrying trays of various mostly chocolate items down the hall.  They were moving rather fast and people had to slow them down to grab some of the treats.  I was surprised at how fast they were going.  After they passed me by, I went to the BB King Lounge to watch the show.  They also went in there to pass out some of the treats, so I guess they were rushing to get to all the venues on deck 2.  I tried a couple items; but neither of them were worth finishing.  I guess I didn’t pick the best ones.

   

   

Ports of Call


We had been concerned about the potential for rough weather during the first part of the cruise, since tropical storm Phillipe was heading our way.  With our first scheduled port, Nassau, which is less than 200 miles from Port Everglades, and where the storm was to arrive the next day, we were glad we didn’t have any tours booked for Nassau.  Shortly after boarding, the Captain announced that we would not be stopping in Nassau due to the storm heading that way.  This made a lot of sense, since the ship would be able to keep ahead of the storm and hopefully provide for a more pleasant cruise.  So, we would have two sea days before arriving at Cap Cana.  Although we were able to miss the storm, the winds were very strong on the first sea day preventing people from going outside.  The one area where I was able to go outside that wasn’t blocked off, I found that it was difficult to even stand up in the wind.  The doors to the promenade deck were blown open making areas of deck three very warm and uncomfortable.  I tried to shut the doors; but they wouldn’t stay shut.  That did seem like a design flaw.  With the strong wind, we were pleasantly surprised at how stable the Nieuw Amsterdam was, and that it was able to handle it.  There was very little movement, even with a sea of whitecaps.  Fortunately, the second sea day was much more pleasant.

Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
After two days at sea, we were pleased to finally see some land.  We could see some high cliffs way off at one end of the island and the inlet to the harbor where our tender boats would take us. 

   

Cap Cana is not normally a cruise ship port; but with the main cruising ports of San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix and others being destroyed by hurricanes, the cruise lines are having to find other ports to use.  Cap Cana is the port for Punta Cana, which is a major vacation destination that has many all-inclusive resorts.  We stayed at one in 2003 during a company event.  All we remembered about Punta Cana was that they had great beaches.

We are not fond of tender ports, especially when they use the ship’s lifeboats as the tenders.  The lifeboats are normally cramped, hot with poor ventilation and not very stable.  I am sure they would be welcome if the ship was sinking; but the ship tenders can be very effective at bringing on seasickness. 

The previous day, I went down to the Northern Lights Lounge about 20 minutes before they started to hand out tickets.   There was already a pretty long line of people waiting, when I got there.  I was early enough and was able to get tickets for the second tender that was to leave at 8:50 AM.  This time would allow me to be able to be on shore early enough to meet up for a private tour that was arranged by one the couples we met on Cruise Critic.  Carol did not want to go on shore, so I just needed one ticket. 

The ship arrived at Cape Cana early, so they were letting anyone get on the tender that was ready to go ashore before 8:00 AM.  This allowed me to be over an hour early before we were to meet for the tour.  The tender ride took just under 15 minutes in smooth water.  Before we got to the dock a mean looking fishing boat passed by us.

   

After we docked, I had plenty of time to look around the port area.  It was a nice place; but really not much going on and just a few shops.  They also had some people dressed in costumes welcoming the cruisers.

   

   

The tour organizer, Patrick, whom I had not yet met, had told me that the tour guide would meet us on the dock at 9:30 AM, so I tried to hang around that area well before then.  The only tours that were gathering there were ship tours, so I began to get concerned.  I asked the port security people where private tours groups were to meet.  They said that I would have to go outside the port gates to meet the guide. 

With 9:30 fast approaching, I was getting concerned since I had not seen the sign that the tour guide was supposed to be holding up, or anyone that was not with one of the ship tours.  I also knew the signage the van would have on the side of it, so I was looking for it too.  With there only being one entrance to the port, I decided to wait closer to the gates to watch for the van.  At about 9:45, I saw the van coming into the gates driving past me to a parking area back down the road.   I rushed toward the van and finally was able to meet Patrick and the rest of the group.  They had been looking for me also; but had waited in a different area. Since one of the group had mobility issues, the guide was allowed to drive through the gates to pick them up.

Our tour through Dominican Plus, http://dominicanplus.com/tours-from-punta-cana, would take us to the town of Higuey to see the Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of Altagracia.  Our guide was Rudolph.  He was very knowledgeable about the area and told us interesting things along the way.  However, the van did not have a sound system, so it was difficult to hear what he was saying.  The seating in the van was also a bit uncomfortable for the taller people in the group, since there was not a lot of legroom between the seats.

   

The drive to the cathedral took about 45 minutes.  It was easy to spot the cathedral from a distance with the 262-foot arch reaching to the sky.  It was a most unusual structure.

I took numerous photos of the unique exterior before entering the building.

   

The interior, although austere in appearance due to the mostly concrete structure, is quite beautiful.  I was impressed and so glad that Patrick had arranged the tour, since I would have hated to have missed seeing this place.

   

When I looked at the entrance above the doors that we had come in through, it was also quite beautiful

The side arches of the building were also quite pretty.  I found the artwork around the stained glass to be quite attractive.         

   

The main attraction in the cathedral is a painting of Our Lady of Altagracia.  We had to climb up some stairs to get a close up view of the painting.  It was brought from Spain in 1502.  The cathedral, completed in 1971, is a shrine to the painting, that had been in other Dominican Republic churches over the years. The image of Our Lady of Altagracia had the privilege of being crowned twice: on August 15, 1922 - during the pontificate of Pius XI - and by Pope John Paul II, who on January 25, 1979, during his visit to Santo Domingo, personally crowned the image with a golden silver tiara, his personal gift to the Virgin, the first evangelizer of the Americas.  Pope John Paul II also visited this cathedral in 1992. 

The beautiful bronze doors to the cathedral celebrate the major historical religious events in the country, including the Pope’s visits.

   

Each August, 800,000 pilgrims arrive at the church to celebrate this beautiful church.  It really is quite a place and there have been many miracles attributed to the painting of Our Lady of Altagracia. After visiting the cathedral, I walked out from the cathedral to take a photo of the palm tree road leading to it.

We walked through the huge grove of King Palm trees on our way to the museum.  From there, I got a different view of the cathedral.

   

It was a small museum and I had no idea what was there; but since it was included in the tour, I went with the group.  We had a very nice tour guide to show us around.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos.  If I had, there would have been a bunch of them here, since there were so many beautiful and interesting objects in the museum.  If you visit the cathedral, be sure to walk through the palms to see the museum.  It is worthwhile. 

On our way to our next stop, Rudolph asked if we wanted to stop at the central market.  Since we had spent more time at the cathedral than had been planned, we passed; plus, it didn’t look that appealing. 

   

We continued on while he told us what we were seeing and pointed out things of interest.  Although, the most interesting thing was all the motorcycles.  The only place I have seen more motorcycles on the road was in Vietnam.

The next place we visited was a small coconut processor.   They showed us how they shredded the coconuts to get the oil from it.  It was a rather unimpressive very manual process.  They had several different products they produce for sale; but there wasn’t much interest in them from our group.  This place was not worth stopping at.

   

We then went to a small cigar manufacturing facility.  Patrick had told us that to save time, he had asked Rudolph not to stop there.  Rudolph introduced us to the shop tour guide, who offered us free cigars. She was very nice and she showed us how the workers were making the cigars.  Having seen cigar manufacturing in Miami’s little Havana, this was pretty much the same thing.  With none of the group being cigar smokers, no one was that interested, nor did they buy any of the cigars. 

   

   

We then went to another shopping spot.  This time to see where they made chocolate candy.   It was located inside a large store.  We first went into the chocolate section, where they had samples.  It was probably a bad idea to have samples, since it was some of the worst tasting chocolate I have had, and others agreed with me. 

   

They did have a large liquor store with lots of local rum and a type of drink called Mama Juana.  They have a wine, rum and honey offerings.  It is unique in that the wine or rum is in a bottle with tree bark and herbs to add flavoring to it.  It is supposed to have medicinal value as well as being an aphrodisiac.  They had wine to sample in a large bottle.  It was a popular spot for the shoppers.  It tasted OK.

   

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the cathedral and museum; but the shopping stops were a waste of time.  I was still glad I went, since it was nice to be able to see the area, especially the cathedral.  Plus, it was a relatively inexpensive tour.

Before dinner, we got to see a lovely sunset.  The best one of the cruise.

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