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


Ports of Call (Continued)

Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

When I looked outside from our cabin, I saw that we were already docked at Amber Cove.  Our view was of the Carnival Victory on the other side of the pier. 

I grabbed my camera and walked up one deck to the Lido deck to see what was on the other side of our ship.  I was pleasantly surprised at the beautiful mountainous terrain all around the area.  It was much different from Cap Cana.  With the sun rising in front of me on the other side of the island, I knew that the photos would look much better later in the day. 

   

The pier was quite long, so I was glad that Carol had brought her TravelScoot with her.  In researching the port before the cruise, it appeared that the main thing to do in port was to utilize the various activities around the large swimming pool area, we could see from the ship. 

   

After breakfast, I headed off the ship to see what we could do for the rest of the day; as well as get photos before it got too crowded with people.  After checking everything out, I would come back and get Carol.  As I entered the narrow valley between the two ships, I was pleased that people were taking their time and not rushing to get off the ships.  With the long pier, there were a large number of bicycle carriages available to pedal people to the end of the pier.  There was no stated price for the rides.  You were asked to tip what you wanted to.  It didn’t matter to me, since I was going to walk anyway; but they were kept busy during the day.

   

As I got further down the pier, I got a nice view of the mountains all around the cove.   The morning fog had not yet been burned off. 

As I got to the end of the pier, I understood why there was no beach close to this port, there was a stone sea wall all around it.     

   

The main terminal building was a large store selling the normal cruise port items.

Walking out to the main plaza area, I was impressed at how nice it was.   Carnival Corporation spent $85 million dollars building this 25-acre facility that opened in October 2015.  It is a large beautifully landscaped area with lots of shops.  There is also an excursion desk hut set up for those wanting to see other parts of the island.

   

   

In one area there is a fountain with large brightly colored masks.   They were most popular later in the day as photo opps.

   

On the other side of the buildings and near the end of the plaza, was a large Amber Cove sign and a great view of the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Not far from the sign, there was a two-story bar building.  With the second story being open air, I walked up the stairs to see if I could get a better photo of the ship.  It was a much better view.  I was lucky that the Nieuw Amsterdam was on the side of the pier, where we could get good photos of her.  I was surprised that our ship almost totally blocked the view of the Carnival Victory, since it is a larger ship with many more passengers; however it is around 40-feet shorter than our ship.  From the second story of the bar, I could also look down to the other end of the cove.

   

Close by was the covered port exit.  It was where the tour busses were parked, and where a local band played some island music.

   

As I headed back toward the terminal building, I could see a large pavilion on the top of a nearby hill.  I was looking forward to seeing the view from there. 

In one area, between some shops, there were several signs telling about the Dominican Republic.  They were most interesting and informative.  I was glad to see that they also had one telling about women in Dominican history.  

   

As I got closer to the hill with the pavilion on it, there was a garden area with a couple of manmade waterfalls and what appeared to be a large piece of amber.  Amber is mined in the Dominican Republic, which is supposed to be the best amber in the world.  In addition to the traditional yellow amber color, they also have red, green and the rare blue amber.

   

My next stop was to check out the 4-acre Aqua Zone.  In addition to the large pool with swim-up bar, water slides and lazy river, they also have a double 650-foot-long zipline from the top of the hill.  I was looking forward to seeing it all.  At the entrance to the area, there were several tables set up in front blocking the path in.  I was told that I could not enter, since it was a private event for the Carnival Victory guests.  Well, that sucked!  I couldn’t believe that we weren’t able to fully enjoy this facility or even see it.  Out of curiosity, I asked how much it cost to go to the event.  I was told that it was $95 pp for the all-inclusive package or $35 without alcohol.  So, the Victory guests couldn’t even enter the facility without paying.  This area was originally free for cruise passengers to utilize when opened two years earlier.  Perhaps this is only done when a Carnival ship is in port.  I had read that it is unusual for both a HAL and Carnival ship to be docked at Amber Cove at the same time.  I was really disappointed that I couldn’t at least get photos of this area for the review.  At least I was able to take a photo of the aqua zone map to see what I was missing.  I also saw a sign near the pool area that showed the prices for various rentals at the Aqua Zone; which indicated that it was free to use the pool zone.

   

I then headed back to the ship to get Carol.  Our Cruise Director, Andrew, was at the ship entrance welcoming guests to the port.  I told him about the inability to use the Aqua Zone.  He did seem surprised about it.  I told him that I would check to see what excursions were available, since there was now nothing else to do in the port.  He said that the excursion desk was open until 9:30 AM, so I needed to hurry.  When I got to the excursion desk, there was one 2.5-hour panoramic tour that went into Puerto Plata and would allow me to see some of the main sights.  For some reason, they only had one time for the tour, 9:30 AM.  There was no way I could make it; plus, I wanted to show Carol around.  Once again, I was disappointed.

After getting Carol, we headed back down the long pier.  Carol enjoyed driving her scooter along it more than I enjoyed my third walk on it.  I pointed out the highlights for her and got a photo of her in front of the Amber Cove sign. 

We then went into a few shops.  I left Carol to her shopping, as I continued exploring the area.  On the path along the water, I came to a nice sea turtle sculpture.

   

I then continued looking around and came to the open air Mercado, where there were numerous small shops.

   

As I was passing by the excursion desk hut, I noticed that they were also offering the same panoramic tour that the ship offered.  I asked about it and found out it was the same price and a tour left at 11:00 AM.  In addition, I could pay for it with my ship card, which allowed me to use up some of the onboard credit that I was struggling with using up.  I can’t imagine why the ship didn’t offer an 11:00AM tour, since they were obviously available.  They had separate tours for those on the Carnival and HAL ships.  Our tour was in a large van.  The larger Carnival tour was on a bus.

Our tour guide, Guillermo, was a friendly fellow and he had a sound system which allowed everyone to be able to hear him.  There were a few technical issues with it at times; but we could understand him.

As the drive started out, we passed by some beautiful mountainous terrain, as well as a junk yard that was burning some of the recent deliveries. 

   

Our first stop was at the main square of Puerto Plata.  It was quite a nice place, with multi-colored buildings surrounding it; and lots going on.  After seeing the poor area near Cap Cana the previous day, this was a much better tourist destination.

   

   

There was a fellow on stilts and others with clever creations to get tourists to pay for photo opps with them. 

   

The two statues in the square are of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding fathers, and General Gregorio Luperon, who fought for independence from Spain.

   

While we were in the square, it started to rain, so Guillermo took us into the Cathedral of St. Philip the Apostle, that was on one side of the square.  It was on the tour itinerary, but I don’t believe it was supposed to be this early in the tour, since it was crowded with other tour groups.   

   

   

The church had some beautiful stained-glass windows.  I apologize for putting so many photos of the windows in the review; but they were just so pretty, I couldn't make up my mind, which ones to take out; so they are all here.

   

   

   

   

The image above the altar, was almost a duplicate of the Our Lady of Altagracia painting we saw at Higuey.

Within 15 minutes, the rain had pretty much stopped, and we were ready to head to our next destination.  I was able to get a photo of the front of the cathedral; which I hadn’t previously taken due to the rain.

Our next stop was close to the cathedral.  It was a small unairconditioned shop, with all the normal souvenirs, jewelry and alcohol available for sale.  Soon after we arrived, the Carnival group also showed up, making it a very crowded store.  Many of the people found lots of things to purchase; but after cruising the Caribbean many times, there wasn’t anything that interested me.  I was just looking forward to seeing something other than a shop.  I had seen too many on the previous day’s tour and was looking forward to sightseeing rather than shopping. 

   

After almost a half hour of shopping, we finally boarded the bus.  On the way to our destination, we passed by a copy of the statue of David in Florence, Italy.  I thought that was a strange statue to see in the Caribbean.  When we arrived at our destination, it was at Play Cosita Rica Beach.  The path to the beach was lined with vendors selling their wares. 

   

The beach itself was quite nice and would have been a nice place for a beach break had there been enough time. 

Just off the beach were two small rock islands.  The smaller of the two had a statue of Neptune, which was also a copy of one in Florence’s Signoria Plaza.  I guess Italian art is popular in the Dominican Republic.

   

   

Our last stop on the tour was at Fortaleza San Felipe.  Construction of the fort was completed in 1577.  It was also used as a jail, where Juan Pablo Duarte, who’s statue we had seen in the square, was jailed for a time.  Its appearance is similar to the forts in San Juan, Puerto Rico; but smaller.  We didn’t have time on the tour to go inside to tour the fort or museum; but it was still worth seeing.

   

   

Down near the water there was another statue of General Gregorio Luperon, but on horseback.  

   

This had been a nice stop; but I wish we had more time to go into the fort.  I can’t complain, since the tour only cost $30; which is a bargain for a ship tour. When I got back to Amber Cove, I headed back to the ship.  The lighting was much better for taking photos of the area.  I was able to get one showing how long of a walk it is on the pier.

   

   

   

I was also able to get some photos of the pool area from the ship using my telephoto lens.

Later, as we were leaving port, I was able to get some nice photos of Amber Cove during the golden hour with the setting sun putting a pretty glow on the cove.  It is a beautiful place.

   

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

On our first HAL cruise, we were supposed to stop at Half Moon Cay; but the waters were too rough for the tenders.  It looked like a great beach, so I was hoping that we could enjoy it this time.  The previous day at the bars and in the Lido Buffet, there were advertisements on the tables telling us about the lobster lunch at the Lobster Shack and the available drink package for the day.  $24.95 for the day was a very good deal, if it was for all the drinks you purchased.  Since I had plenty of onboard credit still available and I don’t drink that much, I didn’t need the package.  As we stopped at Half Moon Cay, it was obvious that the waters were being nice to us this cruise.

Half Moon Cay is a tender port; but quite an easy one, since they use specially designed tenders.  Where we had to go down stairs from deck A when at Cap Cana to get onto the ship’s lifeboat tenders, here we walked right out onto the upper deck of the tender.  Very convenient.  There were lots of seats on top and on the first deck of the boat.

   

There is a narrow channel that the tenders go into, which provides protected water for entering and leaving the dock area.  It is nicely designed.

   

When we arrived at the dock, the large panel at the front of the boat went down and became a ramp for the guests to leave the ship.  Very quick and easy.

To enter the main plaza area, I passed through an arch that had a sign “Fort San Salvador” on it.  The official name of the island is Little San Salvador.  It was purchased by Holland America in 1996 for $6 million from Norwegian Cruise Lines.  They then developed 50 acres of the 2,400-acre island.  Most of the island is being maintained as a wildlife habitat, especially as a nesting area for water fowl. 

The whole place is really nicely done.  The plaza area has shops, bars and an open-air market.  They also had cute signage around, including for the restrooms.

   

   

           

   

I was pleased to see that there were paved walkways throughout the island, which made it much easier to get around, since walking on sand can be challenging for long distances.  Carol would also be able to ride her scooter on the island.

   

There were lots of walkouts and paths down to the beautiful beach area.  There were more than enough lounge chairs for everyone on the ship to relax on.  They also had some loungers with convertible covers that provided protection from the sun.

   

   

My main goal for the first part of the day was to take photos of as much of the island as I could with my SLR camera.  I would then take it back to the ship, so I could return with Carol and enjoy the beach.  There was a cute little chapel along the path. 

   

They also had a basketball court, volley ball court and a playground for kids in another section.

   

   

The "I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever Bar", is a popular photo stop.  It is also a great place to have a drink and just take in beautiful views. 

   

There were two-story beach villas and one-story beach cabanas that could be rented for the day. 

   

   

Further down the beach is the "Captain Morgan’s On the Rocks Island Bar."  It is in the shape of a wrecked galleon.  It is a most interesting looking structure.

   

   

I had to take a photo of the beautiful flowers on a bush along the path.  It was different looking.

The dining area, where a barbecue lunch is served was quite large.  There were many individual seating areas, so everyone didn’t have to sit in one large place.  It was a nice way to arrange it so that it still felt like a more intimate environment.

   

   

They had a good selection of drinks available for lunch; but nowhere near as many as on the ship.

After I had taken all of the photos I wanted to, I went to the covered waiting area for the next tender back to the ship.  I realized while writing this review, that I missed getting photos of the small aqua park close to the tender dock.  I will get it next time.

   

Once on the tender, I saw that they had a glass bottom boat and snorkel reef boat close by.  Nice excursions for those that want to enjoy something besides the beach.

   

I was able to see the boat ramp being lifted up prior to our leaving.  There weren't many people on the tender, most people were still heading to the island.  I also got a different view of the channel back to the open water.  With the sun getting higher up in the sky, the water color was really getting gorgeous as we left the channel.

   

   

As we approached the Nieuw Amsterdam, I could see another tender filling up with guests anxious to go ashore.  You can see how they just walk off the ship to the upper deck.

After dropping off my camera in the cabin, I changed into my swimsuit.  Carol had decided to stay on the ship, while I played in the water.  Carol has never been a beach person; but I thoroughly enjoy them.  On the way back to the island, the water was so pretty and clear, I had to take a photo of it.  I was so glad I decided to bring my iPhone back with me to get more photos.  I sealed it in a baggie to prevent it from getting any water damage.

   

I was able to easily find a lounger in the front row for my stuff and then head out into the water.   There were lots of people on the beach; but it wasn’t at all crowded.  There was so much room for everyone to have their own space.  I had brought water shoes; but with there being no rocks or seaweed, I soon took them off to feel the sand between my toes.  The water was very clear and it easy to see the small fish swimming around.  It was just too pretty there.

   

The water felt a bit cool at first, but it was just because of the contrast from my overheated body.  The water temp was just perfect.  Laying in the calm beautiful aqua water was so relaxing and pleasant.  We live only about 7 miles from the beach in Palm Beach County, FL; but rarely go there.  Our beaches are very nice; but not this nice.  I could have stayed there for many hours.  Since we had to be back on the ship by 2:30 PM, we didn’t have enough time here either.  To remember the beauty of this beach, I took my iPhone out into the water to take photos.  They will bring back fond memories for me and hopefully provide the readers of this review with a preview of coming attractions if you are heading to Half Moon Cay.

   

I took a break from the water to go to the barbecue lunch.  It was nicely set up, with lots of cooks making food and plenty of servers.  We helped ourselves to the salads and the servers gave out the guava glazed beef short ribs, island spiced burgers and island hot dogs and spiced yellow tail snapper.  The ribs were very good; but I am not sure what cut they were, since there were no bones in them.

   

   

   

On the way back to a beach lounger, I saw the Lobster Shack.  There were a few people there; but it didn’t look too popular.  It is probably challenging to sell seafood when they have a free island barbecue dinner close by.

   

I went back to the beach and took a bunch more photos of the beautiful place.  I was just really impressed with Half Moon Cay and look forward to returning there on another cruise.

   

   

Disembarkation

One of the things I like about Holland America is that we can stay in our cabin until our disembarkation number is called.  We didn’t wait that long; but it was nice not to be kicked out of our cabin at 8:00 AM, like we are used to with some other lines.  It is a small thing; but really appreciated on a day that is already not that enjoyable.   We had breakfast and went down to the Explorations Lounge on deck 2, close to where we would exit the ship.  Our number was called about 10 minutes before the scheduled time.  We walked to the exit, where there was no line.  We went down to the luggage area, that was clearly marked as to where our number was to pick up the luggage.  There was a short line at immigration, which we went through quickly.  For some reason, we weren’t given any customs declaration forms to fill out and none were asked for.

When we left the building, we asked an attendant where to get the Park’N Go van.  He told us to follow the yellow path on the ground to the end.  As we got near the end of the path the van was just arriving.  It was just too fast and easy.  I must say it was probably the easiest disembarkation we have ever had.

Recap

The main reason we took this cruise was to experience HAL’s Signature Class ship and to visit St. Thomas again.  When St. Thomas was taken off the itinerary and all but one port changed to what seemed like less than desirable ports, we were disappointed.  But I must say that I did enjoy all the ports and am glad now that they were changed.  Otherwise, I might never have visited them and realized how nice they were.
  
I also know that we really enjoy cruising on Holland America.  They exceeded our expectations in many ways.  We look forward to cruising with them more, especially our upcoming South America/Antarctica cruise in January 2018.

 

   

 

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