Note: This article has been updated since it originally appeared on our site in 2012.
For over 40 years I have traveled the world and taken many cruises, but never on a Holland America Lines ship. With the expansion of our latest online publication IMPress, I felt it was important to broaden our coverage.
I wanted to be a bit more inclusive in the reviews I was writing for IPA. My wife called me about a great promotion on the Nieuw Amsterdam and we decided to take a six-night western Caribbean cruise on the pride of the HAL line.
It would be great to visit my son and his family in Florida, spend New Year’s Eve with them and the next day board the ship for the cruise.
On our return, we would then spend some time with our one-year-old granddaughter at my son’s home.
Booking The Cruise
Since my wife is a travel agency owner for over 30 years at times is offered attractive travel opportunities.
As president of IPA, Editor-In-Chief of our online publications and a working photojournalist, I too have offered to review travel destinations and cruises, so we are a great working team.
She books the travel and takes care of the details and I contact the resorts or cruise lines to arrange for our visit and subsequent reviews. Visit her website now…
This team effort enables us to cover many resorts and travel itineraries that only the larger publications can cover.
Since we generally pay our way, we can pick only those destinations we really want to experience and places we feel we can offer the time and effort in producing a video and writing a review.
It takes weeks to produce the finished product, so it doesn’t make sense unless we know before we go, it will be worth our money, time and efforts.
My first contact at Holland American Lines was their public relations office. I spoke to Mellissa Medford their PR coordinator and introduced myself and told her a bit about IPA and IMPress.
After she had the opportunity to review my work and review our websites, she gave me the green light to do the review.
She arranged for us to meet the ship’s guest relations manager, Joya De Leon, who then arranged for our interviews on board the ship. Mark Zeller the ship’s hotel manager was our first appointment followed by Jonathan Lewis their manager of culinary operations.
I usually try for the triple play on my ship reviews, but the captain was not available for an interview, but we did get a chance to meet him when we attended the Captain’s Cocktail Party one evening.
Arriving On The Ship
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale from our base in West Palm Beach where we were staying before and after the cruise ended. I was excited to see this beautiful ship and happy to see our spacious stateroom with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a nice bottle of sparkling wine waiting for us, compliments of HAL.
We also had a notice that they arranged for us to dine at three of their specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind Asian Restaurant and Le Cirque’ which is offered one night during the cruise in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant.
The ship is almost new (launched July 4, 2010) everything was sparkling and fresh. The decor is understated and very elegant and lacks all the flash and neon one would expect to see on the other cruise lines.
You see HAL is an upscale cruise line that caters to the older clientele who prefer more sophisticated decor. This doesn’t mean that they don’t attract the younger customer or families, it does mean however that you will find a nice cross-section of guests.
We noticed a lot of physically fit passengers, both young and old. We did not see those that might enjoy entering a “Belly Flop” contest, entertainment that we have seen on other “fun” ships. What you will see, is a nice selection of passengers who came from many different countries. We met people from Brazil, Australia and lots of Canadian families because they were still on Holiday vacation from their schools.
This ship can accommodate 2100 passengers and over 900 crew members. They boast 1053 staterooms that breakdown into 2 Penthouse Suites, 50 Superior Suites, 62 Deluxe Verandah Staterooms, 150 inside cabins, and the remainder are the Verandah Staterooms with balconies.
Sixty-seven percent of their staterooms have balconies, so there is plenty of light in most of them.
The Holland America Lines beds in our stateroom were king-sized and oh so comfortable. Their beds and linens assure guests that they will enjoy a good night’s sleep. The bathrooms have a full bath with a shower, unlike so many ships that only have a tight stall shower.
One other feature unique to this Holland America Lines ship is the availability of private cabana’s that are located around the main pool and in one of the decks above overlooking the pool. In our interview with Mark Zeller, you will see that they are the only ship that offers this wonderful amenity and you can book the cabanas by the day or week.
It is perfect for a small family, especially with young children or those that want the comfort, privacy and added attention that cabana patrons enjoy. Be warned should you think about booking one on your next cruise, they are limited and go fast, so you should reserve yours when you book your cruise.
Plenty of lounge chairs around the pools and upper decks, so no need to get up at 6 AM to reserve chairs. Two pools one for all ages and one for adults only. Not many people were in the adult pool, but the family pool had lots of activity with the kids, moms, and dads all having a great time.
The ship is decorated beautifully and is meant to offer its passengers a luxurious and relaxing cruise. They are dedicated to their guest’s positive cruising experience and do everything in their power to make it just that.
So Many Things To Do
The ship has so much going on during the day from cooking classes to computer classes and all included at no extra charge. They have a huge library stacked with loads of books and current magazines and one of the nicest spots to read them, the Crow’s Nest.
If you still want to be in touch they offer a full computer center with loads of computers and slow but available internet access. If you have children, don’t worry, plenty for the young ones and the teens as well.
This is the place for the little ones and they also have activities for young teens too. The spa and health club had tons of machines and classes from Yoga to Pilates too.
The staff on board the ship are from Indonesia and the Philippines and this holds true for all the other HAL ships. This custom of hiring crews from these countries goes back many years.
They have found that having these wonderful, warm and friendly people serve their passengers helps them offer that positive cruise experience.
I found out that it is easier for a ship’s staff to function better as a team on their ships because they share a culture, language and work ethic. Other ship crews we have met came from a number of countries and most wear a name tag that shows their name and the country they come from.
I can tell you that this in itself is a problem for many guests and the crew itself. Not only are their language problems, but it is more difficult for them to work as a cohesive team because of these differences, not so on HAL.
Some of the people you will see in our video have been with HAL for many years and they all greeted us with a smile and a great deal of warmth.
This Was To Be A Short Article
I originally thought I would keep my article short because I would tell the story in my photos and videos, but that became hard to do as I sat down to write my story.
I let those on the ship tell you about their jobs and the ship. I thought it would be the best way to show you what we experienced. However, I did have to guide you through the videos to give you some foundation so you would better understand what you are seeing.
Video Interviews – Staff & Guests
In my video staff will tell explain what they do and in some cases how long they have worked for HAL. Watch their faces as they tell you about themselves. I am sure you will see they are happy to work on the ship and be with the Holland America Lines.
You will also meet some of the guests we met and interviewed on the cruise. One thing you will hear from all of them…the food is exceptional and the ship is warm, inviting and very comfortable.
Not many spoke about the shore excursions, which we will talk about in the next few paragraphs. This cruise was all about relaxing. A cruise, where they could spend quality time with family, and one where they were able to make new friends.
I love to interview the guests when I do a travel review because they are the same people that read these articles. For those that are thinking of taking a cruise and want to know more from others this article I hope, will prove helpful.
This the reason many spend hours reading reviews about products and services before making a decision to buy a product or service.
Entertainment On The Ship
Each night there was entertainment on the ship. You could go to the Piano Bar and have some fun with Jimmy Maddox, who is more fun than the usual piano bar singer.
He was able to get the crowd to sway to the tunes of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline even if he forgot some of the lyrics.
If you wanted to simply relax in one of the other lounges like the Explorer’s Lounge with friends. You can have some great conversation, you could do that as well. The Adagio Strings was a wonderful string quartet that played the classics beautifully.
If you are looking for that big ship extravaganza type show, you may be a bit disappointed. If can’t compare these shows to a Broadway show or a multi-million dollar production the super ships offer.
My recommendation to HAL is don’t try to compete. Mega-ship shows are great, but your shows are just fine.
The comments we either read in passenger reviews and heard from people we spoke to on the ship were lukewarm when describing some of the shows in the Showroom At Sea, however, we loved them.
One night we enjoyed watching Craig Diamond. He was billed as a “master magician and a funny guy”. When he first took the stage we thought we were in for a typical magic act, but soon found ourselves laughing at his antics.
Although the magic might not have been mind-boggling or extravagant, he was so funny that the magic was simply the vehicle for his funny antics. No big budget or big production numbers, but we enjoyed the evening’s entertainment.
Cruise Ships Discover New Talent
Because things haven’t changed that much over the years. Today new talent is discovered in many places. Television and the internet have become some of those places. However, cruise ships that have a constant need to entertain their guests have become one of the larger employees of new talent.
The cruise ship industry probably hires more new entertainment talent than any other industry. The competition to find the best talent is heating up. We have met some of the past contestants of America’s Got Talent entertaining on cruise ships.
We love when the audience becomes the show. You can never go wrong with some version of the newlywed game. Ships also have logistics and travel issues when it comes to their talent. They have to pick up talent at various ports, on many cruises and of course, have them depart when their appearance on the ship is over.
The Old Catskill Comedians • Some History
The entertainment on the ship reminded me of the Catskill Mountains entertainment. A place where young comedians got their start.
Living in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s to 1960’s we didn’t vacation on cruise ships and international vacations were for the rich.
Our family would spend our summers away from the sweltering streets of New York and spend a good part of the summer in the Borscht Belt also known as the Jewish Alps. It was strewn with hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps and was located in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
“Many comedians got their start working the Catskills, names like Phyllis Diller, Buddy Hackett, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Zero Mostel, The Three Stooges and many others. Singers and dancers also got their start there. You might see Tony Martin, Neil Sedaka, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, Carole King and some of the best in the entertainment world, all of them started their careers in the Catskills.”
The Catskill Mountains in New York
Many Guests On This Ship Remember Catskills
Now the cruise lines are our generation’s Catskill mountains. The Catskill’s were at their height in the 1940s to around the 1960s.
Passengers enjoyed the “all you can eat” traditional European cooking. Back then at the many hotels there, we had three hearty meals each day and snacks at night. There were pools and lakes to keep us cool in the summer and entertainment at night. The men at poker and gin rummy tables and women playing Mahjong and canasta.
Husbands would usually come up for the weekends because they worked in New York and most would stay in the Catskills for the entire summer.
Shore Excursions and Visits To The Islands
This cruise promised three days onshore and we were to visit Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. We were also going to Falmouth, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Unfortunately, poor weather made our first port of call Half Moon Cay impossible.
We spent an extra day at sea, frankly, for us, it was just fine, gave us another day in the sun and on a beach. This island was filled with tee-shirt and duty-free liquor and jewelry shops, something I didn’t miss.
HAL refunded some of the fees we had paid to dock in the Bahamas. We were able to use the credit for some onboard spending.
We really didn’t miss the Bahamas, because we could enjoy some of the other activities on the ship. We decided to see a cooking demonstration in their very cool Culinary Arts Center. This was set-up like a Food Channel Cooking Kitchen.
We had a great time eating at their Lido Cafe for lunch and had some of their wonderful Asian cuisines.
While my wife sat by the poolside reading her book, I went to the movies in the ship’s movie theater. It was great and they even served warm popcorn and the seats were the same as you now have in most theaters, the soft leather reclining ones with a cup holder.
I had met them in New York at the NY Times travel show that we attend each year. Their owner invited me to take some of their “experiences”. In the past, I tried to do this when we were in Jamaica but, was never able to make it happen, until this trip.
I met their Caribbean Brand Manager, Georgette McCullum who arranged for us to take their Chukka Zipline Canopy & River Tubing Combo. This combo was fantastic as you will see in the video and Georgette was so much fun.
You will Georgette in our video doing her “commercial” which was done in one take, amazing. We had so much fun and you can even hear my wife screaming “Ya Man” as she started her descent on the first leg of the Zip Line adventure.
Great people and great excursions, you must be sure to book a Chukka Tour in the Caribbean. These guys really own this business and I believe are the largest company in the islands.
The following day we landed in the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman. We have been there before and although for us, we decided to take it easy and simply do some snorkeling. We would then hit the public beach, no excursions planned for the day.
Now you can book many fun excursions right on the ship or even before you get to the ship. Because we are old-time travelers and tend to like to do it ourselves and try not to plan these things in advance. Although in this case, we intended to write about them in our reviews, so we did make advance arrangements.
We walked out to the main street and walked about two blocks and came upon a little retail store called Beach Bum Water Sports. It is located at 23 N. Church St. They rent snorkeling gear so we went in and met the owner Tami Keyes who you will meet in the video too.
Tami comes from the United States. She decided to start a little business on the island and make a go of it. Tami runs some of the tours for the cruise lines including HAL and also works directly with travelers.
You can email her for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tami will tell you about her operation on our video. She allowed me to snorkel in the back of her building which is usually not permitted. You will see some underwater video I shot with my little point and shoot Nikon Coolpix AW100.
It was a very cool camera, good to 33 feet underwater, shockproof if dropped up to 5′, impervious to damage from rain, snow, sand or other elements and had the best LCD rear display that enables one to shoot full 1080p HD videos and amazing 180 to 360-degree panoramic photos.
Today you can get so many GoPro and other cameras that can do even more amazing shots underwater.
I was able to snorkel for some time, the water was cool and clear and I was able to get shots and video of the fish and coral and the big ships anchored at sea from my underwater vantage point. It was awesome.
We decided to hit the public beach about two miles from where the ships dock. We caught the public bus and for $2 each it took us to the beautiful white sand beach.
You can rent chairs there, other types of water and scuba equipment and even grab something to eat. It is a wonderful, clean beach with crystal clear water. Definitely, worth the bus ride to the beach, we highly recommend it.
Back To The Ship After A Great Day On Shore
We took one of the ship’s tenders back to the ship and had something light to eat to hold us until dinner. Tonight we were going to dine at the Pinnacle Grill again. It was the Le Cirque’ Night and we couldn’t wait to enjoy the fine dining experience.
We knew the food would wonderful, after all, it was the menu from New Yorks’s Le Cirque Restaurant. I am not going to say another word, or what we ate, you will have to watch the video and see for yourself.
Now if this glorious meal wasn’t enough, we discovered that the ship has something special planned at the Lido Poolside.
The Dessert Extravaganza at 10:30 PM is just that, an extravagant display of desserts from chocolate covered apples to the wildest and most tasty dessert creations.
It takes their team four full days to prepare for this party and in the end, it is all eaten.
Just when I thought I didn’t have any room left in my tummy after the meal at Le Cirque’ I somehow found a couple of spots that were still empty. It was a crazy party as you will see in the video. Next time, a light meal for dinner, big time at the Extravaganza.
Mark was warm, friendly, intelligent, and as my wife put it a “very good looking” man.
As Mark will tell you, he is the youngest hotel manager at HAL. He was honored when they assigned him the newest and largest ship in the fleet the Nieuw Amsterdam.
Watch the video now and see Mark answer some of my questions. He talks about his role as a hotel manager. The many challenges for the future for HAL and the cruise industry. He explains why HAL differs from the other cruise lines.
Interview with Jonathan Lewis – Culinary Services Manager
Watch our video interview and find out more about their culinary services.
Both officers were great fun to interview and Jonathan even arranged a private tour of the ship’s kitchens for us. We met some of his staff and saw how they handle the many challenges of feeding thousands of people each day.
Summary & Recommendations
If you haven’t figured it out by now, my wife and I both loved this cruise. Considering we never sailed with HAL before we were pleasantly surprised.
We were convinced they couldn’t compete with the mega-ships that we have reviewed in the past but we’re wrong. Although this was our first HAL cruise I hope it will not be our last and hopefully, you will plan a cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam too.
The cost of this six-night cruise during their promotional period was less than staying at home and eating three meals a day even at our local restaurants.
Not For Beer Guzzlers
If you aren’t a beer-guzzling, love to yell and scream party animals and are looking to meet some nice people from many countries and make new friends then, by all means, take yourself and the family on this wonderful vacation.
You will find the cost, less then it might cost at a decent resort and the experience will be unique and not soon forgotten.
Should you happen to meet Mark Zeller, Joya De Leon or Jonathan Lewis on your cruise. Be sure to say you saw our review on IMPress Magazine and just wanted to meet them in person.
We won’t soon forget this wonderful cruise and hope to once again sail on another HAL ship.
Note: Some of the photos used in this article were supplied by HAL.