Posted on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 by Peter Knego
Continue with Peter Knego aboard Holland America Line’s “Nieuwest” ship, the 86,273 gt MV NIEUW AMSTERDAM on a seven night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean, visiting HAL’s private “Out Island”, Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, San Juan and Grand Turk.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Of all the premium cruise lines, Holland America does in-cabin breakfast best. Not only is the coffee hot and drinkable, there is a decent selection of courses, from eggs and omelets to bacon, sausage, cereals, muesli, fruit, muffins, juice and toast. And, hidden underneath those handy heat domes and starched linens is the line’s elegant blue, white and gold Rosenthal china.
When we finished our breakfast and parted the curtains, the NIEUW AMSTERDAM was resting off Holland America’s idyllic private Bahamian out island, Half Moon Cay. In lieu of anchoring, the ship remains in place by satellite-controlled thrusters and pods.
Two large landing craft ferried passengers to and fro on a regular basis. Their open-topped seating platforms were optimal for snapping a shot or two of the ship.
Upon arrival, guests disembark onto a sheltered tender pier that is adjacent to Half Moon Cay’s Welcome Center shopping area.
The island’s facilities include a horse stable, kid’s center, food pavilion, aqua park with water sports equipment, basketball and volleyball court, massage cabanas, nature trails and a beautiful arc of pristine beach.
A tai chi course was conducted at water’s edge, adjacent to Captain Morgan’s, the newest attraction at Half Moon Cay.
Captain Morgan’s is a pirate ship replica with three levels of bars and an open “deck” overlooking Half Moon Cay.
We ventured inside for a late morning Virgin Mary doused in Tabasco and Worcestershire.
Topsides, there was a nice view of NIEUW AMSTERDAM…
and another bar to barrel up to.
After a few more photos, it was time to seek out a deck chair.
That gorgeous turquoise water was a bit cooler than it looked but not so cold that we didn’t eventually take the plunge.
After a swim, we decided to explore Half Moon Cay. A hike along the nature trail soon brought us to the lagoon at the island’s epicenter.
We eventually stumbled upon the Stingray Encounter, where passengers can opt for an excursion to wade with, shuffle around and feed the gentle sea creatures.
Between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM, a special barbecue was set up in the food pavilion with freshly grilled chicken, burgers, salads and much more.
Upon our return, I set about trying to document more of the ship, checking off a few more of the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s sumptuous spaces before they filled with returning guests. Her largest non-dining venue is the three deck, 890 seat Showroom At Sea, featuring state of the art sound, lighting, LED displays and a stage with platforms that raise, lower and spin around.
It has a bright orange, maroon and beige palette with Art Deco flourishes.
Among the Showroom At Sea’s most interesting focal points are the two sculptures suspended over the entrances on the Lower Promenade Deck level.
All Holland America ships feature decorative nods to their former Dutch roots and most have portraits or busts of recent Dutch royalty. At the entrance to the Queen’s Lounge/Culinary Arts Center, there is a striking bronze likeness of Queen Beatrix.
With everyone back aboard by 3:00, the ship’s powerful MAK engines were revved up and the NIEUW AMSTERDAM began podding away from Half Moon Cay and into the deep blue on her southeasterly journey towards St. Maarten.
Energized by a cappuccino at Explorations Cafe (atop the ship on forward Deck 11), the rest of the afternoon was spent writing, editing photos, working out and enjoying the time at sea.
Dinner was assigned in the 112 seat Pinnacle Grill overlooking the starboard side of the Atrium on Lower Promenade Deck. One of the ship’s two extra tariff eateries, it has been designated by Porthole Magazine as “The Best Alternative Restaurant At Sea”. Lunch is available for a $10 per person tariff and dinner commands a reasonable $20 per person. One night per week, there is a specially prepared Master Chef’s Table dinner that includes wine pairings for $89 per person for a maximum of 18 guests. Additionally, since last November, the Pinnacle is home to Le Cirque, Holland America’s latest culinary experience, one night per week. More details on Le Cirque in a subsequent report…
In the Pinnacle, Murano glass chandeliers hover over olive green and burgundy soft fittings.
Lace curtains provide a gauzy view into the Atrium.
Settings include Bvlgari china, Frette linens and Riedel stemware.
Our evening at the Pinnacle began with a mushroom soup Amuse Bouche served atop a decorative swirl of creamy sauces.
Appetizers, Salads and Soups included a French Onion Soup King Louis XV (beef broth with aged cognac and caramelized onions, baked with gruyere croutons); Spicy Chicken Coconut Soup (fragrant coconut milk with kaffir leaf and lemongrass); Lobster Bisque (creme fraiche and aged cognac); Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail (brandy horseradish and cocktail sauce) and a Vine-Ripened Beefsteak Tomato Salad (with sliced purple onions and balsamic or blue cheese dressing); Baby Arugula Salad (tossed with sliced purple onions, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and a warm bacon dressing topped with smoked bacon and chopped egg); Caesar Salad (crisp romaine tossed in homemade caesar dressing, grated parmesan cheese, garlic croutons and anchovies — prepared tableside); Dungeness Crab Cakes (with spiral shaved cucumber and sweet chili mustard sauce) and a Pinnacle Ocean Platter (carpaccio of lightly smoked salmon with hot smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp, sea scallops and wasabi cream).
And for the main courses: Land and Sea (fillet mignon and jumbo prawns with garlic rosemary beurre blanc); Lobster Macaroni and Cheese (a delicate gratinéed combination of mascarpone-enriched pasta and creamy lobster broth with chunks of lobster); Steaks (fillet mignon, ribeye, porterhouse, New York — served with handcrafted sauces: sun-dried tomato; master chef”s green peppercorn; bearnaise; horseradish mustard; hollandaise; maitre’d garlic butter); Colorado Lamb Chops (spiced apple chutney and mint sauce); Grilled Veal Chop (marinated overnight in a savory blend of garlic and pepper vinegar and scallions); Grilled Chicken Breast (stuffed with spinach and garlic herb cheese and served with lemon garlic beurre blanc sauce); Fillet Steak Diane (pan-seared medallions of beef tenderloin enriched with mushrooms and Cognac) and Fillet Mignon Burger (half pound of freshly ground, truffle-infused beef with fine herbs, served with tomatoes and fried onion rings); Broiled King Salmon (troll-caught in Alaska with lemon-garlic herb splash or sesame soy kalbi) ; Broiled Lobster Tail (on wilted spinach and arugula with mustard seed and choice of mango churri pesto sauce or melted butter); Cedar Planked Black Cod with Shrimp Scampi (with roasted garlic and cilantro butter) and a mini menu of Pinnacle Signature Skewers (beef delight, tantalizing lamb, chicken and turkey temptation, delectable seafood, vegetarian zen). Sides include: Creamed Spinach; Sautéed French Button Mushrooms; Sautéed Onions; Basmati Rice; Shoestring Potatoes and Oven Baked Potato Idaho.
As we sipped and savored, the night meandered on. By the time dessert was polished off, the main shows were over. We took a stroll on deck and then retired to 8133 as the NIEUW AMSTERDAM rocked and rolled her way into high winds and a Force 8 swell.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
With an hour lost due to the time change and wanting to catch up on some much-needed sleep, we decided to skip breakfast and snooze away until the latter part of morning.
Barry Vaudrin of the excellent Cruising Authority website was on board and asked me to join him for a short interview in the Explorer’s Lounge on aft/starboard Lower Promenade Deck. A popular watering hole adjacent to the Manhattan Dining Room, it is also the evening venue for the Adagio Strings. I particularly like the New York imagery here, namely the long pop-art-style mural by Harald Vlugt.
I managed to slip in a quick work out to soothe my gluttons’ guilt, then went to the Spa for a Swedish Massage ($119). Manila-based Ramon pretty much crunched and pressed me to a pulp, launching me into a bit of a delirium for the rest of the evening and following day.
Of course, there was the mandatory pitch for me to purchase some nice Elemis products but Ramon got the drift right away and did not pressure me relentlessly like some other attendants have in the recent past.
We had drinks with the press group in the Silk Den at 7:00 PM, followed by dinner in the Tamarind. One of my favorite parts of the ship, the Bjorn Storbraaten-designed Silk Den seats 50 in a glass-encased crescent that overlooks the midships Magrodome pool area. Not only does it offer spectacular views, it boasts cabana-style seating and some of the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s most attractive decor.
Silk Den is also a perfectly paired spot with the adjacent Tamarind Restaurant for pre and post dinner drinks and conversation. The 142 seat Tamarind, also designed by Bjorn Storbraaten, is unique to EURODAM and NIEUW AMSTERDAM but will hopefully spread to the rest of the HAL fleet. For a mere $15 cover for dinner and no charge for Dim Sum Lunch (reservations are required, however), Tamarind quickly became my favorite dining venue on the ship.
The heavy ceramic place settings, elegantly elongated cutlery (including steel chop sticks), solid velvet seating and special touches like a welcome cup of chrysanthemum tea, steamed hand towels and charming, efficient stewardesses lend Tamarind a very upscale ambiance.
Holland America describes its culinary concept thusly: “The restaurant reflects Asian culture and cuisine by emphasizing nature’s basic elements: water, wood, fire and earth. The menu’s ‘water’ main courses feature sea bass with a hoisin-lime glaze and baked snapper in rice paper; ‘wood’ entrees include Wasabi soy beef tenderloin encrusted steak served on a cedar plank; ‘fire’ dishes include red penang curry coconut chicken; and ‘earth’ menu items encompass vegetarian dishes such as sweet and sour vegetable tempura…”
In lieu of bread, there are shrimp crisps that can be doused in three savory chili sauces: mild, medium and hot.
I ordered a Chicken Pho with Wild Lime and Rice Stick Noodles, a sumptuous Thai and Vietnamese fusion. Alternate choices included a Yin-Yang Scallop Consomme and Jewels of the Sea.
Rob selected his appetizer from the Sushi and Sashimi menu.
Appetizers include Satay Samplers, Shrimp Tempura, Shanghai Ribs, Pot Stickers, Spring Rolls, Thai Beef Salad and a wonderful Green Papaya Salad with spinach, tomato, water chestnuts and papaya tossed with lime juice and palm sugar.
Three main course selections are available in each of the Water, Fire, Wood and Earth (Vegetarian) categories. I ordered the Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken (mildly spiced chicken with snow peas, eggplant, zucchini, pimentos, opal basil, lemon grass and lime juice served in a bath of red curry and coconut milk). Side orders include steamed garden veggies in red miso garlic sauce, steamed jasmine or brown rice, stir fried veggies with chili and sesame seeds, bok choi with oyster sauce and sake-braised oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Simply not to be missed!
Desserts included a Ginger Bread Banana Pudding with tempura bananas and caramel sauce…
…and a trio of sorbets (passion fruit basil, lychee green tea and wasabi). Others not sampled: Tamarind Chocolate, Mango Cloud, Tempura Ice Cream and Chocolate Almond Fortune Cookies.
We finished dinner in time to catch most of the second show, “Garage Band”. Having seen plenty of main stage cruise revues in recent years, I am often more impressed with their staging and pyrotechnics than content and performances. Not so this time — after the first song, it was clear this was no ordinary musical theater company! Great voices and choreography! Encore!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
As NIEUW AMSTERDAM neared St. Maarten for her scheduled 10:00 AM arrival, the RUBY PRINCESS, which had been lurking off her starboard stern for the past 36 or so hours, closed the gap by sidling up to her port side and simultaneously berthing at the outer jetty.
As far as St. Maarten is concerned, I had no plans other than trying to get some photos of the NIEUW AMSTERDAM, writing and then finding an internet cafe with a high speed connection. As soon as I stepped off the peaceful ship and into the steel drums, whistle blowing and heckling of the quayside, my feelings for the place were affirmed.
I made a right turn at the parking lot where the tour buses depart and climbed the small stone wall for a photo of the ship. Within seconds, I was being shouted at by a security officer. I relished returning to the ship to try and finish documenting decks and public spaces while most of her passengers were enjoying St. Maarten’s myriad beaches and the hustle and bustle of shopping in the Dutch town of Philipsburg.
With RUBY PRINCESS adjacent, there appeared to be two sets of Fincantieri funnels atop NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s sun deck.
The brilliant sun had coaxed the Magrodome all the way open so it could beam down on the midships pool.
And the aft pool did its best to lure any sun worshipers who decided not to go ashore.
On forward Deck 5, a crew member was polishing off the ship’s shiny brass bell.
And from forward Deck 4, the sun was shining brightly on the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s handsome forward superstructure.
Normally, the Crow’s Nest is filled with passengers but this port day was a major exception. I was able to get a substantial portion of this blog written in one of its comfy reclining leather swivel chairs overlooking the bow. Next stop: a local internet cafe with a high speed connection so I could post some photos…..
End Of Second Post. Much More To Come…