Cruise Review: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


I previously blogged about each port we encountered on the Nieuw Amsterdam, so this post is meant to be about the cruise itself.  Previous posts on the itinerary, ports, and the Pinnacle Suite can be found in the menu links above.  This is a full-fledged cruise review of the various aspects of shipboard life.  As such, it is much longer than my typical blog post.  Enjoy…

Holland America Line
ms Nieuw Amsterdam
12-night Mediterranean Empires cruise
May 2, 2014 – May 14, 2014
Depart:  Venice, Italy (round-trip)
Cabin / Suite:  7031 (category PS)
Itinerary:  Venice, Italy; at sea; Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Piraeus (Athens), Greece; Istanbul, Turkey (overnight); Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece; at sea; Venice, Italy (overnight)

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Introduction

This 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam was my 34th cruise, but my first to Europe.  I have previously sailed Carnival 23 times, Holland America and Royal Caribbean three times each, and once each on Celebrity, Princess, Majesty, and Premier.  I consider myself pretty well-versed and experienced in cruises, but I hadn’t taken a cruise in over two years before my trip on the Nieuw Amsterdam, and I hadn’t taken a cruise as long as this one.  My last cruise was a New Years’ trip to the Western Caribbean aboard the Carnival Legend, and my last cruise with Holland America was in July, 2008 to Alaska on the Oosterdam.   I had never cruised in a suite on a cruise except for one trip on Carnival’s Imagination back in 2005, so I especially looked forward to this cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

This review will cover the various aspects of life onboard the ship since I’ve already provided a port-by-port account of this cruise in previous posts.  We traveled in the Pinnacle Suite (PS) #7031 on Rotterdam Deck, and I also posted on that earlier.

In Summary…

This was easily my most memorable cruise for many reasons.  First of all, we were traveling in the largest suite on the ship — the Pinnacle Suite thanks to the generous invitation from my Aunt and Uncle.  Since I’m accustomed to standard staterooms, this was a real treat and a definite outlier from my “typical” cruise experience. Secondly, the fact that this cruise allowed us to visit so many destinations to which I had not previously traveled made it an especially memorable experience.  Finally, the company with whom I traveled — my Aunt, Uncle, and girlfriend all added to this cruise.

I’m not sure if it was because we were suite guests, but the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was exceptional in all aspects.  Pretty much everyone we came in contact with went above and beyond throughout the cruise.  Just as exceptional was the food.  I found the cuisine all over this ship to be some of the best I’ve had on any cruise.  The ship itself was beautiful and filled with art, and it had more than adequate facilities for the guests.  Entertainment was for the most part pretty good, but considering the port intensive itinerary, it was not a priority for our party during this trip.  As mentioned before, the itinerary was sensational, as we visited eight ports during the twelve nights.  All in all, this cruise was fantastic and probably my best cruise to date.

Food

Since this was, after all a cruise, there was naturally food available whenever you wanted.  On the Nieuw Amsterdam, there were two primary food venues — The Manhattan Dining Room and the Lido Restaurant.  In addition to these two venues were four specialty restaurants — The Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind, Canaletto, and the Dive-In Burger Shack.  An extensive room service menu was also available, and for suite guests – snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and canapés were available daily in the Neptune Lounge (concierge lounge).

Manhattan Dining Room

We enjoyed dinner most of the nights in the Manhattan Dining Room.  As the main dining room on the ship, the Manhattan offered open seating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as two assigned seatings on the upper level for dinner.  We chose the late seating dinner and enjoyed a table for six by a window in the aft section of the upper level of the dining room at table #57.  Our waiter team led by Slamet and Ming provided impeccable service throughout the week.  By the second night, they knew our preferences, and accommodated special requests without hesitation.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan paid us special attention and ensured that our every wish was granted.  Starting the second night, we enjoyed most of our dinners with the ship’s doctor Richard and his wife Michelle — they were such nice people, and we enjoyed spending the evening with them on a regular basis.  The food served in the Manhattan Dining Room was fantastic.  It was a definite notch above the dinners I typically receive in the main dining room on cruise ships.  The steaks were cooked properly, the fish and pork dishes were fantastic, and the appetizers and soups were plentiful and tasty.  We found the menus each night to be varied and relevant, as fresh, local ingredients were used on regional specialties throughout the cruise.  All in all, dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room was a really special experience, and we looked forward to dining there throughout the cruise.  As I previously stated, the food was a cut above normal “cruise food” and seemed to be prepared for a much smaller group rather than a ship full of 1,800 guests.

Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind

On the formal nights, we dined in two of the three specialty restaurants.  The first formal night, we chose to eat in the Pinnacle Grill.  The Pinnacle Grill is the upscale steakhouse aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.  Though it carries a $29 cover fee, it is well worth it.  The menu features an impressive selection of steaks and seafood.  I ordered the rib eye, which was excellent, and my girlfriend had the filet mignon.  The filet literally melted in your mouth, and was one of the better tasting filets I’ve enjoyed anywhere.  We also had the opportunity to have lunch in the Pinnacle Grill on the last day of the cruise ($10) where I had a fantastic shrimp cocktail and a delicious Wagyu beef burger.  The last two formal nights, we dined in the ship’s Asian-Fusion restaurant, Tamarind ($20).  The food here was simply exquisite.  The appetizers and soups were extremely good.  On various occasions, we enjoyed the mixed satays, potstickers, pho, tempura fried shrimp, and spring rolls for appetizers.  The first trip there, I ordered the excellent Penang Red Currty Coconut Chicken, and the second time I had the Wasabi and Soy Crusted Beef Tenderloin.  For desert, the tempura fried ice cream is not to be missed!  The tenderloin, along with the appetizers and aforementioned fried ice cream was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life — anywhere, and certainly the best I’ve had on a ship.  The day we arrived in Argostoli, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a dim sum lunch in Tamarind, and it was also exceptional.

The Lido Restaurant

The other main food venue on the Nieuw Amsterdam was the Lido Restaurant.  This was the ship’s buffet area, and it was split into several distinct food serving sections.  For breakfast, the had a fantastic eggs benedict bar, where one could choose from eight types of eggs benedict; a fresh eggs / omelet bar; several traditional breakfast buffet lines; a fresh Belgian waffle line, and a continental breakfast area complete with every bread, pastry, and fruit one could imagine.  I especially enjoyed the eggs benedict bar along with the waffles.  For lunch, the area changed with choices for a varying “Taste of Nations” line, two traditional lunch lines, two salad bars lines, an Italian / Mexican line, and of course pizza.  Though we only had lunch in Lido a few times (we were in port during lunch on most days), I really enjoyed the Taste of Nations — particularly their Asian specialties.  Overall, the food in the Lido was varied, fresh, and delicious.  The presentation in the buffet lines was clean and appetizing — it was an extremely good option for a meal onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Canaletto and Dive In

We did not try the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant, Canaletto simply because we found it pointless to eat Italian food on a ship full of so many different options, on a cruise that started and ended… in Italy.  On the other hand, we did eat at the “Dive-In” Burger Bar on a few occasions and found them to prepare a very tasty burger.  They utilize a pager operation at “Dive-In” which allows one to go relax at their table until the food is ready.

Room Service

We utilized room service for the majority of our breakfasts, as we enjoyed having coffee and a light breakfast in our suite or on the balcony.  Breakfast always arrived on time, though they did have problems grasping the concept of leaving the food in the butler’s pantry instead of coming through the main door, waking everyone up.  We also arranged for room service to provide appetizers on several occasions prior to dinner.  One one evening, we even ordered some appetizers from Tamarind and Pinnacle, and they were delicious (there was obviously a cost for this).  They really did their best to satisfy our requests throughout the week, as we had some pretty abnormal requests, such as a plate of nachos!

As previously mentioned, the food on this ship was probably the best I’ve had on any cruise.  It certainly was better than the food we had on my last Holland America cruise, and blows away the notion that cruise food is relatively bland since it’s mass-produced.  We found the cuisine onboard to be consistently excellent.

Service

Service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam truly was top-notch.  From our room stewards, to the concierge team, to the dining room waiters, to the dining room managers, to the bartenders and cocktail waiters — the service was simply spectacular.  Our two room stewards, Mugi and Daniel kept our large suite spotless.  They were friendly and accommodated all of our special requests.  The concierge team of Chris and Nickolai were fantastic.  Again, they went out of their way to ensure that all of our needs were met.  One of them was always available in the Neptune Lounge, and they arranged for everything from dinner reservations to spa treatments to in-room dining.  As previously mentioned, the dining room service was impeccable.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan literally couldn’t do enough for us.  He personally delivered a plate of fresh asparagus and spinach to the table nightly with a smile, since we’d asked for it on one occasion.  He also arranged for a private tour of the kitchen, led by Petr, the Executive Chef.  I know this was likely because we were guests in the Pinnacle Suite, but it was really appreciated and special, nonetheless.

The same sort of friendly service was found from all the bartenders and cocktail waiters.  They went out of their way to get to know us during the cruise.  Our favorite cocktail waiters, Roland and Fritz greeted us with smiles and conversation on a daily basis.  Again, the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was consistently excellent for the entire cruise.

Entertainment

We really didn’t partake in too much of the entertainment on board, simply because we enjoyed very long dinners and we were dead tired and ready to go to bed on almost a nightly basis.  However, one of the highlights onboard was the Piano Bar, where we enjoyed a drink on several different occasions.  We did see one of the production shows, and it was pretty good — my girlfriend especially enjoyed it.  One evening, we stopped in to see the comedian, but he wasn’t all that great.  On most evenings, we’d have a post-dinner drink in one of the many bars onboard, but usually we ended up in the Piano Bar as previously mentioned.  I did enjoy the casino on a couple of the nights — it wasn’t that large, but plenty big for the ship.  We did partake in one of the “pub crawls” and had a great time despite the paltry attendance of only six guests!

All in all, I’d rate the entertainment on the Nieuw Amsterdam as adequate.  While the entertainment is nowhere near the elaborate shows and non-stop energy found on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, it was certainly plenty for this itinerary and clientele.

Gym / Spa

The Greenhouse Spa and fitness center is located on Lido deck forward, with large windows and a wrap-around view off the front of the ship. I used the fitness center three times on the trip and found it adequate.  I primarily use dumbbells, and they had weights up to 75 pounds, though the lifting area was very small.  This wasn’t too much of a problem since I seemed to be the only person in the area.  Treadmills were plentiful, though they seemed to be almost always occupied by people walking slowly — isn’t that what the wrap around promenade deck is for?

My girlfriend had two treatments at the Greenhouse spa, and seemed to enjoy both of them.  On the first day at sea, she enjoyed a massage, which was preceded by an hour or so in the impressive Thelassotherapy pool and steam room.  On the day we arrived in Istanbul, she got a manicure, and seemed to like that too.  The only negative she mentioned was the price of the manicure seemed to be a bit exorbitant, which can be expected on a cruise ship.

Ship

The four-year old Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship.  At 935 feet long and 86,700 gross registered tons, she is by no means a small cruise ship, but at the same time, she’s nowhere near being as large as most of the ships our there these days.  This mid-sized ship and relatively low passenger count (1,800 on this cruise) made for a ship that really never felt crowded.  Not once did I wait in line onboard, nor did I have to wait for an elevator.  The Lido Restaurant never had lines except for the first day after embarkation when everyone seems to head straight to the Lido for lunch.  The size of this ship is really just perfect.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is filled with an impressive art collection.  Rich with art at seemingly every turn, one could really pass time checking out the various paintings and pictures that adorned the walls of hallways and public spaces.  Since it is, after all, the namesake of the Nieuw Amsterdam, New York City is the over-arching theme of the ship.  The atrium is adorned with a crystal, icicle-like sculpture of the Manhattan skyline, and the Explorers Lounge is adorned with a huge mural of the New York skyline in the 1930s. The colors on the ship are very nautical and earthy — certainly the antithesis to the Joe Farcus-designed interiors of Carnival.  The interior of the Nieuw Amsterdam had a very classic and elegant feel — I really enjoyed my time onboard this beautiful vessel.

Of its twelve bars onboard, my favorite was the Silk Den.  Located on deck 11, it features panoramic, 180-degree views of the ocean on either side of the ship, and the pool deck.  It is decorated in an Asian theme, and we found it to be relatively empty all week with fantastic waiters.  This was our go-to spot for pre-dinner drinks.  I do love the Crow’s Nest Lounge as well, but it seemed to be the most crowded lounge on the entire ship.  We also really enjoyed the enclosed Lido Pool area.  Since the weather was somewhat chilly (60-degrees) for a large part of the cruise, the retractable roof was closed atop the mid-ship pool.  This created a nice, relaxing, and open space where we enjoyed a few lunches and beers.  One of the great features aboard Holland America ships is the wrap around promenade deck that fully encircles the ship.  It’s a great deck on which to take an evening stroll as the world goes by.

Since this was, of course, Holland America, the average age of fellow guests onboard was rather… seasoned.  My girlfriend and I were pretty clearly the youngest couple onboard.  Though there were a few families with children, probably 90% of the passengers onboard were over the age of 60.

In its entirety, the Nieuw Amsterdam is a very manageable ship — it’s not too big, and not too small.  It’s an extremely pretty ship inside and out.  I wouldn’t hesitate to cruise her again in the future!

Overall

The whole experience was fantastic.  The Nieuw Amsterdam is a really special ship with a very warm, attentive, and amazing crew.  The service and cuisine were equality excellent, as was the incredible 12-night itinerary.  Holland America excels at providing a traditional cruise experience with superior service, food, and onboard experience, and the Nieuw Amsterdam certainly lived up to — and exceeded that standard of excellence.  I cannot recommend this ship and cruise enough!

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 6 – Istanbul, Turkey

After spending the majority of the day at sea cruising through the Dardanelles, we approached Istanbul from the west at about 3pm.  The approach into Istanbul was beautiful, and I enjoyed pointing our parts of Istanbul to my girlfriend, Aunt, and Uncle.  I previously spent time in Istanbul about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Because of this, I really looked forward to returning on this trip.

We ultimately didn’t dock until around 5pm due to high winds, but when we did my girlfriend and I disembarked and walked into town directly to the Galata Bridge.  We had the fortune at docking at the cruise ship birth closest to the Galata Tower and Bridge, so the location was extremely convenient.  After viewing the fishermen from the Galata Bridge, we proceeded to the Egyptian Bizzare – or Spice Bizzare to see the sights, sounds, and smells of the place.  Overrun with spice merchants, vibrant colors and smells filled the air making for a pretty intense setting.  Ater this, we walked back across the bridge, and up the hill to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.  As the timing worked out, we were up on Galata Tower right around sunset, which made for some amazing pictures.

We then continued up the hill to the Galata area.  We explored the side streets full of bars and cafes, and came upon a few of the bars that I’d been to last year on my trip to Istanbul with friends.  We started back towards the ship before stopping for a Turkish dinner of kebab and Turkish pizza.  It was tasty as always.  We returned to the ship around 9:30pm where the ship was putting on a Turkish Bazaar dinner up on board – they really did a nice job with it though we did not partake.

May 7 – Istanbul, Turkey

This was a unique port of call for a cruise since we were docked in Istanbul overnight.  The overnight call aspect of the cruise was one of the most attractive features of the trip for us.   Having been to Istanbul before, I had a pretty good idea of a proper tour itinerary for my girlfriend, aunt, and uncle that next morning.  We decided to take the tram to the Sultanahmet stop – a short, ten minute trip (for €3 per person, each way).  Here, we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but we did have to wait in line for about a half an hour before being allowed to enter and take pictures.  The view inside was amazing as usual, and  reminds me of the cover of my high school World History textbook.  Next, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, but decided not to enter due to the massive line to get in.  Entrance would have been €10 per person had we decided to brave the line.  I did go inside the Hagia Sofia on my last trip to Istanbul, and in my opinion, it would have been worth the wait.

Alas, the rest of the group didn’t want to wait, so we headed across the street to the Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Sistern was also ten euros per person.  I quite enjoyed this last time, and I did on this trip as well.  It’s a dimly lit cavern full of water and yellow and red lighting.  We then proceeded to the Grand Bazaar, which was only about a ten minute walk from the Sultanahmet area.  As usual, the Grand Bazaar was utter chaos – not quite my cup of tea, but the ladies wanted to get some shopping in.  We took a quick break for a lunch of doner kebap before taking the tram back to the ship in time for our scheduled 5pm departure.  The sail away from Istanbul was simply beautiful as we passed Istanbul landmarks like the Galata Bridge, Topapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and Blue Mosque.  That evening, we enjoyed appetizers in the room before our dinner at Tamarind — the specialty Asian Fusion restaurant onboard.

May 8 – Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece

We awoke the following morning off the shore of Lesbos – a Greek Island just off the west coast of Turkey.  The ship was anchored about a mile off shore, so we utilized the ship’s tenders to transport passengers into town.  Mitilini is a picturesque, Greek fishing village centered around a harbor.  It really reminded me of the harbor in Georgetown, Grand Cayman about twenty years ago before the high rise buildings.  The harbor is lined with cafes that turn into nightclubs at night.  Since Mitilini is apparently a college town, these seemingly sleepy cafes convert into a raging nightclub scene after dark (or so we were told).  We enjoyed several beers and shots of ouzo at a couple different cafes in Mitiline before and after a stroll down the main shopping / market area of the town.  The ouzo was a must since Lesbos is where the Greek drink originated!  We decided against an organized tour to another location or beach on the rather large island, and this port served as a leisurely break in between the two, tour-intensive Turkish ports of call.

May 9 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Kusadasi is one of two port cities used by cruise lines to access the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is the much closer of the two ports (Ismir), and it is only about a twenty minute cab ride from the pier in Kusadasi to Ephesus.  We arranged a cab at the pier as transportation to Ephesus for a total of €60, round-trip.  The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus is very scenic, as you hug the rugged coastline for most of the 15km trip.  Upon arriving in Ephesus, we paid an entrance fee to the ruins.  The ruins themselves were spectacular.  The pictures below speak for themselves.  Highlights of the ruins included the Terrace Houses (extra entrance fee), and the Great Arena, which held up to 25,000 spectators.

After spending about an hour and a half at the ruins, our cab driver drove us back to Kusadasi, where we briefly walked through the town bizarre before having a Turkish lunch at Toros, right on the harbor.  The kebab lunch was fresh and delicious.

Kusadasi itself functions as a major beach resort town on the Turkish coast.  The coastline, the beaches, and water are beautiful in Kusadasi.  The Turkish coast as a whole is renowned for some of the finest beachest anywhere on the Mediterranean, and this is certainly a region to which I’d love to return.

Next stop:  Santorini, Greece…