More from Peter Knego aboard Holland America Line’s “Nieuwest” ship, the 86,273 gt MV NIEUW AMSTERDAM as the seven night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean continues with visits to St. Maarten, San Juan and Grand Turk.
Please click on image to see larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2011 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011, ctd.
I spent the rest of my time on St. Maarten at Telecom, the friendly internet cafe in the cruise terminal. When it shut down at 6:00 PM, I stepped out into the twilight to enjoy a dramatic view of the two brilliantly lit ships. Her gangway already stowed, RUBY PRINCESS hoisted her lines and slowly backed out as I re boarded the NIEUW AMSTERDAM.
With the multiple dining options on the NIEUW AMSTERDAM and a mere seven nights in which to try them, we didn’t want to let more time pass without sampling Canaletto. Every night, the forward/starboard portion of the Lido Restaurant is transformed into a stylish 64 seat Italian dining venue. It’s free of charge but reservations are recommended, especially at peak dining times.
Since the ship was still under a “code red” due to a few cases of gastrointestinal illness, the olive oil and balsamic vinegar were not at our disposal but our waiter made sure the bread plates didn’t dry up. Canaletto starches include fresh-baked bread sticks, foccaccia, garlic bread and deliciously flaky rolls. Before the first menu courses arrive, there is a round of antipasti with all sorts of tantalizing choices, from marinated bell peppers to roasted eggplant, chunks of reggiano parmesan, olive tapanade, artichokes and more.
Dinner began with a tangy Minestrone (with white beans, pasta shells, fresh veggies and thyme) and an Insalata Canaletto (seasonal greens with tomato, cucumber and olives) before graduating to a main course of Chicken Marsala Scaloppini (tender scallops of chicken breast glazed with marsala wine seried with linguini pasta tossed with tomato and roasted garlic). We both chose a simple gelato for dessert but alternate choices included a Trio of Tiramisu, Limoncello Creme and a Mille-Feuille of Madagascar Chocolate. Unique to Canaletto is a cloud of Limoncello cotton candy, served after dessert and, if desired, with a specialty coffee.
The headliner in the Showroom At Sea was “The Marriage Game”, a live take off on television’s Newlywed Game, hosted by cruise director Dan Bernbach. All in all, an amusing show with some unexpected twists from three brave couples pulled from the audience.
After a circuit or two of the promenade, we decided to see what was going on in the Northern Lights Disco. On prior nights, it was abuzz with revelers but tonight, only the lights were dancing.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
It was painful when room service knocked at the cabin door. Our bodies were just not ready for the 7:15 wake up call and neither of us were terribly hungry but we gorged on a multi course breakfast to fuel what was supposed to be a morning of horseback riding in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rainforest.
Meanwhile, NIEUW AMSTERDAM was entering San Juan harbor. I checked the bow and stern cams in case a quick run up to deck was necessary to capture the panorama of ships in the normally bustling cruise hub. Not today, however — the only other ship in port was the already-berthed CLUB MED 2.
Just as we headed off to muster for the excursion, the cabin phone rang. It was the Shore Excursions office offering us an alternate tour since ours was canceled due to lack of interest (?!). After that huge breakfast, there was no way we could get back to sleep, so we decided to venture ashore and explore Old San Juan on our own.
It was a short walk from the cruise terminal to Paseo de la Princesa, a picturesque promenade that meanders along the outskirts of the old city wall. In a square near the harbor entrance, the centerpiece is Racies Fountain, with its many sculptures celebrating San Juan’s heritage.
The Paseo continues along the edge of the harbor towards the sea. On our way to the base of El Morro, we passed several small parks, one with a series of with druid-like metal spires.
Lush greenery did its best to scale the stone walls of the six level fortress, built between 1570 and 1783 by the Spanish to guard the harbor entrance. Abandoned cats have taken residence in the foliage and rocks on either side of the paseo.
In addition to a prison, El Morro has many a spire-topped outcrop among its six levels of ramparts.
Paseo de la Princesa ends at the water’s edge, where large breakers periodically slam into the rocky shoreline.
We retraced our steps to a break in the wall and entered the old town near a square with an intimidating bronze sculpture of a skeletal cardinal. The figure was a bit frightful but quite spectacular, if not a cuddly mascot for Catholicism.
A rigor mortized gecko facing the staff-wielding figure seemed frozen in terror.
For the next hour or so, we meandered the wonderful stone streets of Old San Juan. Many of its crumbling facades are being restored while much of the real estate behind them is being gutted.
Our stomachs were beginning to growl and we considered stopping in one of the inviting cafes for a bite to eat, but the food on the ship was too good to pass up…
First stop, the pizzeria on aft Deck 9 for a margherita to go. Next: the usual salad and sandwich from the Lido.
Such a gorgeous day was all the better enjoyed with a refreshing dip in the aft pool. With so many people still off on tour, it was nice to just relax on the uncrowded ship.
Up in the Crow’s Nest, I perked up with a cappuccino and did some writing, inspired by the great view over Old San Juan, all the way across to El Morro and San Cristobal forts. At 4:00 PM, as NIEUW AMSTERDAM blew her whistle and cast her lines, I headed back to our cabin to watch from the balcony as the ship podded into the turning basin and slipped out of San Juan harbor into the Caribbean.
There was the usual workout, followed by another gourmand’s dinner with the press group. Tonight, the Pinnacle was transformed in Le Cirque at the Pinnacle. In special collaboration between famed Le Cirque restaurant’s founder Sirio Maccioni and HAL’s award-winning executive chef Rudy Sodamin, it features a fixed menu with a selection of Le Cirque courses once per week. And so far, so good — the 120 seat venue is a consistent sell out, even with a cover charge of $39 plus an extra $20 for wine pairing.
The amuse bouche was foie gras. A bit cruel for my personal taste but the presentation was splendid.
The appetizer was a gobsmackeringly good Lobster Salad “Le Cirque” (poached lobster with haricot vert and citrus).
The soup course, Sweet Corn Soup (corn fritters, wood ear mushrooms and basil) is a two stage production. First, the fritters are served and then the piping hot broth is poured on. Rich and tasty…
A choice of three main courses included Rack of Lamb (goat cheese panisse, artichokes and arugula) and Cote de Boeuf (aged prime rib strip steak with horseradish flan and sweet and sour baby beets) as well as my selection, the Wild Halibut (leek fondue, Rocca Di Frasinello sauce). All main courses come with a side dish of seasonal veggies or Pommes Dauphine.
The dessert choices were a very indulgent Chocolate Soufflé (tempting but trumped by a need for sleep) and a highly caloric Creme Brulée Le Cirque. We wrapped it up with a selection of sorbets: sweet, tangy and kinder in the morning.
After watching a portion of the comedy show in the Showroom At Sea, we walked around the ship before finally calling it a night.
Friday, January 28, 2011
After a good night’s sleep, nothing beat yet another in-cabin breakfast and coffee. Out on the balcony, we could make out the faint outline of Grand Turk on the starboard horizon. By 10:30, NIEUW AMSTERDAM was thrusting her starboard side towards the end of the long jetty.
At 11:00, we disembarked and rendezvoused in the Cruise Center for our bike riding and snorkel tour.
Meanwhile, a very familiar ship silently appeared on the horizon and gradually maneuvered to the other side of the jetty. I was beginning to think there was “something going on” between NIEUW AMSTERDAM and RUBY PRINCESS. The two Carnival Corp. cousins seemed to be shadowing each other for the greater part of the week.
After 20 years, I wondered if I could even still ride a bike. Barely. But the flat island was hardly challenging terrain. Our first pit stop was a nice cove but the rest of the ride, which took us in and out of Cockburn Town, was somewhat less scenic. Still, it was a beautiful day.
We stopped for a few minutes outside the island’s oldest church, St. Mary’s, built in 1900. Damaged by a recent storm, its contents have been temporarily stored in adjacent containers while repairs are underway.
The tour ended with an hour spent at Governor’s Beach. The water was gorgeous but there was no sea life to speak of, so we ditched the masks and snorkels and just enjoyed floating in the pristine surf.
Once back aboard NIEUW AMSTERDAM, our balcony faced a beehive of balconies on the RUBY PRINCESS.
Shortly after sunset, NIEUW AMSTERDAM slowly backed away from Grand Turk and headed into the Caribbean. We were prepared for some relatively rough seas as the captain announced our upcoming encounter with a force seven or eight on our northwesterly course to Fort Lauderdale.
The press group went off to what must have been a spectacular “Chef’s Dinner” in the Pinnacle but the fixed menu was not-so-well-suited to my semi-vegetarian palate. We headed to the Asian-themed Tamarind, our favorite restaurant on the ship and one of the best at sea.
With Deena and Ani waiting on us, our already high expectations were still exceeded. These fabulous Indonesian ladies are not only thorough, energetic and attentive, they have that special gift of making guests feel, well…special.
I sheepishly asked if I could have all chicken gyozas (versus the trio of pork, chicken and shrimp) as my appetizer. “Of course!”, Deena, exclaimed. Meanwhile, Romeo, the wine steward, had brought out a champagne bucket to give our Kirin Ichiban beers an extra icy chill.
We navigated through many of the same perfect courses we enjoyed on our first night at Tamarind. All just as good: Chicken Pho (with wild lime and rice stick noodles); Green Papaya Salad and the drop dead-wonderful Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken. Polished off, once more, with that palate-cleansing trio of exotic sorbets. How do they do this for a mere $15 cover?
Although we had a busy final day at sea scheduled, we made a point to return for the Dim Sum lunch the next day.
We enjoyed what we saw of the “Garage Band” show featuring the ship’s talented company earlier in the cruise, so we didn’t want to miss tonight’s show, “Live At The Avalon Ballroom”. I’ve become a bit jaded about most Broadway style cruise ship shows for featuring more flash than substance with their revolving sets, fiberoptics, LED lighting and sound effects but the talented cast outshone all of it. Great voices, superb dancing, innovative staging and a terrific selection of jazz standards. There was a deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.
As NIEUW AMSTERDAM plunged and shimmied her way back to Florida, we returned to the latest in a series of expert towel animals in stateroom 8133. I was certain it was a stingray but Rob guessed it correctly as a lobster.
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."