Please click on image to see larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2011 unless otherwise noted.
This past Sunday, Fort Lauderdale’s skyline was dominated by no less than seven mega cruise ships: Royal Caribbean’s ALLURE OF THE SEAS; Princess Cruises’ RUBY PRINCESS; MSC’s MSC POESIA; Carnival’s CARNIVAL FREEDOM; Celebrity Cruises’ CELEBRITY SOLSTICE; Holland America’s NOORDAM and our home for the next seven nights, Holland America’s NIEUW AMSTERDAM. This would be my first “non-inaugural” cruise with HAL in years and it would be great to see how their latest ship stacks up against some pretty tough competition.
The 2010-built NIEUW AMSTERDAM is the fourth Holland America ship to bear the name and the second of two “Signature Class” vessels, following the 2008-built EURODAM. These expanded versions of HAL’s popular “Vista Class” quartet (ZUIDERDAM, OOSTERDAM, WESTERDAM and NOORDAM) are part of Carnival Cruise Line’s vast SPIRIT Class platform that utilizes similar hulls and machinery. NIEUW AMSTERDAM was built by the Fincantieri shipyard at Marghera (near Venice) but her early July debut was somewhat overshadowed last year by the simultaneous introduction of NCL’s much-anticipated, one-off NORWEGIAN EPIC.
Once past security, we stepped into the Atrium, where the Adagio Strings provided a soothing and welcoming classical soundscape.
Although her layout is almost identical to the EURODAM’s, the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s interior look is a bit more subdued. Most of the ship’s public rooms were designed by Utrecht-based Frans Dingemans of VFD, the firm responsible for all of the interiors of HAL ships since the advent of the prior NIEUW AMSTERDAM in 1983. Joining Mr. Dingemans in instilling the two Signature vessels with their unique look is Oslo-based Bjorn Storbraaten of Yran and Storbraaten, who designed the specialty dining venues Tamarind and Canaletto as well as the Club HAL youth center.
In most areas, NIEUW AMSTERDAM eschews the vivid color schemes and dark veneers that were once trademark HAL decorative features for an almost Midcentury Modern or Scandinavian style.
NIEUW AMSTERDAM also boasts one of the most cohesive decorative themes in the HAL fleet with its nod to New York City as well as displays, paintings and artifacts celebrating the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s predecessors. The second NIEUW AMSTERDAM (1938), arguably Holland America’s most famous and beloved ocean liner, is especially prevalent. In fact, that twin funneled icon is featured along with explorer Henry Hudson’s caravel DE HALVE MAEN (HALF MOON) in the company’s logo.
It has become a modern tradition to adorn every HAL ship’s forward stairtower landings with a selection of Stephen Card oils depicting prior HAL ships. The Bermuda-based artist is internationally renowned for his painstakingly-detailed and accurate portraits.
With just a short time before regular embarkation began, we visited a selection of cabins, ranging from 175 square foot insides to the 1,318 square foot penthouse suites. A forthcoming Decked! will provide more details on the NIEUW AMSTERDAM’s public spaces and accommodation.
On midships Deck 11, the NIEUW AMSTERDAM and EURODAM have Cabana Clubs overlooking the Magrodome-covered pool area. Their private cabanas are available for rent on a daily or weekly basis. Perks include meal and drink service, chocolate-dipped strawberries, Evian misters and, of course, privacy.
One of the most attractive Vista and Signature features is the full wrap-around teak promenade encircling Promenade Deck, where three laps equals a mile.
As the ship rapidly filled with a full complement of 2,106 passengers, we headed to our 200 square foot deluxe verandah outside stateroom 8133 on aft/starboard Deck 8. Designed by Seattle-based Nancy Burfiend in boutique hotel style, it is furnished with a convertible sofa, two twins or one queen bed, a desk, mini bar, safe, closet space, table and chair, night stand, flat screen television and individually-controlled air conditioning.
The balcony measures 54 square feet and comes with two chairs, a small table and an ottoman.
The bathroom has a tub, sink, massage head shower and glass storage racks for toiletries.
Elemis soap, shower caps and moisturizer are provided.
In the tub, handy dispensers contain Elemis shampoo, conditioner and bath gel, eliminating the need for wasteful plastic bottles.
Our next stop was the 470 seat Lido Restaurant on aft Deck 9. The casual dining venue features a variety of food stations: sandwiches, entrées, Asian, a salad bar, pasta and desserts.
On the prior sailing, there were several cases of a gastro-intestinal illness. Since a large percentage of guests were doing back-to-back sailings, all public areas during our cruise were placed under a “code red”. HAL is very pro-active about this situation and even though the risk of its spreading was low, every precaution was taken: hand sanitizers were everywhere, buffet counters were covered in plastic wrap and there would be no self-service, handling of shared tongs, salt and pepper shakers, etc.
After finally urging the Salad Bar attendant to pile on my greens and veggies, the end result was a delicious olive oil and balsamic-drenched confection.
Our boat drill was held at station 17 on aft/starboard Promenade Deck just as the cruise ship exodus began. By the time we were able to get over to the port side, the CARNIVAL FREEDOM was entering the Atlantic and the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE was turning into the cut.
NIEUW AMSTERDAM skillfully thrust her way off the quayside and slowly passed the ALLURE OF THE SEAS, the world’s largest cruise ship.
Once past the MSC POESIA and the RUBY PRINCESS, she turned into the cut and out to sea on the first leg of her seven night voyage.
Throughout the cruise, we would do our best to sample the ship’s multiple dining venues. Our first dinner would be in the dual level, 1,114 seat Manhattan Dining Room on aft Lower Promenade and Promenade Decks.
Spiral stairs surrounding a circular seating island connect both levels of the Manhattan Dining Room. Frette table linens, Riedel stemware, Rosenthal china and silver plate cutlery add to the elegant ambiance of dining here.
The courses began with a selection of appetizers, including my delicious Crab Tower with Avocado Salsa (the sweet meat of Alaskan crab with diced ripe avocado and fresh tomato, gently combined with olive oil, lime and cilantro).
My friend Rob ordered the Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin (razor-thin slices drizzled with fruity olive oil, topped with shaved Reggiano Parmesan cheese and accompanied with a robust whole grain mustard sauce). Other choices: Celebration of Fruit Cocktail (the Greenhouse Spa choice — a selection of fruits flavored with a trace of Creme de Cassis and served with a tongue-teasing apple foam); Grilled Four Mushroom Crostini (grilled portabella, shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms served with a toasted baguette point).
We both savored a Caesar Salad from the “Available Daily” menu but alternate Soup and Salad choices included: Seafood Soup Provençal (saffron seafood broth with whitefish, bay shrimp, mussels, fennel, potato and diced tomato, served with a rouille crouton); Cream of Chicken and Artichoke Soup (tender artichoke hearts paired with plump chicken and velvety cream); Chilled Carrot and Orange Bisque with Cumin (chicken stock blended with sweet carrot and orange juice with a slight hint of cumin); Heart of Romaine Lettuce Niçoise (the Greenhouse Spa choice — flakes of tuna, crisp green beans, cucumbers, sun-ripened tomato, olives, onion rings and tender diced potato, marinated in a fresh oregano vinaigrette).
We also both ordered the succulent and tender Guava-Stuffed Chicken (lemon-marinated chicken breast stuffed with guava, cream cheese and spinach, served with caramelized mango, assorted bell peppers and mashed Boniato white sweet potato). The other choices: Penne with Crisp Pancetta; Farmer’s Choice Salad; Broiled Seabass with Lime-Tarragon Aioli; Prime Rib of Beef au Jus; Veal Cordon Bleu and Asian Vegetable Noodles.
Meanwhile, Rob ordered a Grilled Coho Salmon entrée (basted with a soy-ginger glazed, served with wasabi mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables) from the “Available Daily” section that also included: French Onion Soup “Les Halles”; Perfectly Grilled Breast of Chicken and Broiled NY Strip Loin Steak.
Desserts ranged from a Blue Velvet Cake to Banana and Coconut Creme Trifle and a sugar free Praline Fruit Mousse Torte to my choice, an astoundingly good Viennese Apple Strudel with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. In the Frozen Treats section: Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream; Pineapple Sorbet; Vanilla Frozen Yogurt; No Sugar Added Mint Chip or Vanilla Ice Cream; and a Brownie Hot Fudge Sundae. Additional “Available Daily”choices: Chocolate Brownie Stack; Pineapple Fruit Crisp Of The Day; Sliced Fruit Plate; Artisan Cheese Selection.
If this first official dinner was any indication, Holland America’s catering has come a long, long way in the past couple years! Kudos to Master Chef Rudy Sodamin for the variety and quality of the cuisine.
Our leisurely dinner had gone on too long for us to make the opening night’s show, so we headed to the upper decks for a view over the glowing Magrodome. As the NIEUW AMSTERDAM plunged southward, the RUBY PRINCESS followed off her starboard side.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."