Make the most of your cruise vacation with information from

Discover the world of cruising

Get ready to cruise with Cruise Wear, Accessories, Luggage & More from
The Cruise Shop

 Cruising by the Book ~ Top Picks in 
Cruise Guidebooks

The favorite of serious cruise travelers:

 Cruise Travel
Cruise Travel

Have a question or a review to submit?

Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Holland America Lines (HAL)
m.s. Nieuw Amsterdam  
Circle Caribbean - March 12th - 26th, 2000

by John Steinke

This cruise was billed as "our most complete Caribbean vacation … 11 intriguing islands in 14 unforgettable days. First a lazy circle through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, then an island hopping spree charting the arc of the Lesser Antilles all the way to Isla Margarita, just off the coast of Venezuela. Next, the Dutch gems of Bonaire and Aruba, the spectacular coral reefs of Grand Cayman. By the time you reach Tampa, you’ll have come full circle."

What HAL didn’t say was that you will be so taken by the ship, her crew, the islands and the Caribbean that you’ll never want to return to your home… 

OK, let’s get on with the review - 

After much planning, we decided to arrive in Tampa a day early so as to avoid any rush or other last minute problems. To make it easier, we have family and friends in the Tampa Bay area so this gave us a chance to catch up on old times and relax before our cruise. We booked a room at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel in downtown Tampa via the internet (, choosing that hotel for its location (10 blocks from the pier), service (free shuttle to-from airport and to-from pier), and rate ($99.00/night for 2 adults, single king bed). Excellent hotel, but avoid the formal dining room. Way over priced for what you get. The food is fancy, but the prices are exorbitant ($175.00 for dinner and drinks for four!) I recommend you check out the deli on the ground floor. Excellent sandwiches and soups, delightful pastries, and very reasonable prices. For a late night snack, call Dominos. They deliver right to your room. Save your money for the ports you’ll be visiting over the next two weeks!

Tampa is a very nice city with all the nightlife, diversity, culture, entertainment, sports, history, museums, theaters, education, zoo, theme park and restaurants you could ask for. There are other cities with better theater, better museums, etc. But, Tampa offers a very good mix of venues and a wide selection. You can do as much or as little as you wish. Tampa Bay has it all.

On Sunday morning, I called to the front desk and reserved two seats in the first shuttle bus to the pier.  Embarkation was listed as beginning at 1:15 PM. We arrived at 12:00 Noon and were greeted at the door by a HAL Shore Representative. He asked if we were alumni, gave us a boarding number (‘A’) and ensured that we had our documents and our U.S. Customs form completed. We then checked in at the service counter, pre-processed our credit card for our ship board account and received our Passenger Identification Cards. The whole process took almost five minutes! After that it was wait until our number was called, carry-ons through the X-ray, up the escalator, across the gang-way and ‘Welkom Aan Boord!’

Entering the ship, you are greeted by a white gloved steward who will take your carry-on bag(s) and escort you to your stateroom. Quite a difference from some lines where all you get is a, ‘down the hall, take your first left and go up three floors. Your cabin should be on your right.”

Our stateroom was B-005. That’s the third stateroom from the front, on the right-hand side, on the top most deck, just around the corner from The Crow’s Nest Lounge. An excellent accommodation! The room itself was about 14’x20’, with a queen sized bed against the outer wall, below two windows (18x20). There were two double door closets with two upper shelves in each. The inside wall is completely mirrored. There is a full sized color television in the cupboard and a dry sink (pre-stocked). The dresser has six large drawers, two with key locks; and a writing desk with an ottoman for a seat. To the side was a small table and two easy chairs. The bathroom was tiled and had a counter about 2’x5’ with a stainless steel shelf underneath. One wall was (again) a full mirror and the shower/tub combination was against the opposite wall.  There was only one electrical outlet, and the warning sign  read ‘For Electric Razors ONLY!’ They are serious about that. Heard of many people who blew a circuit breaker (some more than once) by plugging in their hair dryers and other goodies.

Three of our bags were waiting for us on our arrival and our Steward arrived within five minutes with the fourth and final bag. Unpacking took about another 20 minutes, then we were off to explore the ship!

Addressing each category from the ratings list separately -

Discos/Nightclubs - We’re both (basically) non-drinkers, so this is a difficult category for us. Anyway, not to much in the way of ‘discos’ or ‘nightclubs’ on board, but there were some great lounges. In particular; The Crow’s Nest (Sun Deck) was a very popular watering hole, especially when arriving or departing the various ports. Excellent views, a good pianist (Robert Howard) and a tiny dance floor. On Upper Promenade Deck is Peter’s Bar, overlooking the Stuyvesant Lounge. Good service and a great view of the activities in the lounge. Farther aft is the Peartree Club. This is (primarily) a sports bar with dim lighting and a big screen TV. There is a dance floor, but I don’t think I ever saw this bar getting any use. Strange, because it is right next to the casino and overlooks the Lido pool area. Most likely, it’s because of the lighting. That’s the only thing I can think of. On Promenade Deck is the Explorer’s Lounge, the Hudson Lounge and Henry’s Bar. Both lounges have dance areas and either the Rosario Strings or the Basul Quartet played in each. Entering the Hudson Lounge, don’t forget to rub the beaver’s nose. It’s a good luck thing!

Shops on Board - There are four shops on board and they are all located on Promenade Deck, just off the main stairwell and elevator bank. The Boutique is your stop for film, liquor, sunscreen, souvenir coffee mugs and all those little things you forgot to pack. Basically it’s a small airport gift shop.  Adjacent is the Perfumery. Just in case you missed out on a particular scent in one of the ports (not very likely), then you can always get one here. Across is the Jewelry shop. You guessed it. Jewelry. Everything from gold-by-the-inch, to $20,000 emerald rings. The final shop is clothing. Moderate assortment of nice items, or good quality. Robes, sports wear, jackets and (limited) formal wear. Naturally, the nautical, m.s. Nieuw Amsterdam  and Holland America themes prevailed.

Exercise Facilities - Although we did not avail ourselves of the gym, I did wander through and check it out. Although small it is well equipped and the staff is knowledgeable. There is an extensive organized fitness program on board, or you can set your own pace. We did. I ate and Pat shopped. Hey, it worked for us!

Beauty Salon - Steiner’s of London has the Holland America concession. They have a comprehensive line of products which appear to be competitively priced. My wife hit the salon five times during the two weeks and was not pressured into making massive purchases of various creams and lotions. As a matter of fact, I don’t think she bought anything along those lines (except two bottles of SPF 50 sunscreen in the boutique).

Casino - From what I heard (and experienced) the Wampum Casino is very ‘tight’. Although there were some ‘winners’, it appeared that there were far and away more losers. Most nights the casino was fairly empty. Other than the first night (when I dropped my $50 allowance), I never saw anyone playing my favorite, the roulette table. I had built my stake up to $86 after about 20 minutes of quiet play, then the croupier was switched and suddenly, I lost it all. Go figure.

Ship Cleanliness - Cleanliness is a Dutch tradition and a trademark of Holland America. I seriously doubt that there was anytime when someone, somewhere, was not cleaning, polishing or vacuuming something! The ship is old, but she doesn’t show it! Obviously the Senior Housekeeper, Unan, knows what she is doing!

Deck Space - There was never a shortage of deck space or chairs/loungers. The decks were always kept clean. It was appreciated.

Space Ratio - The Nieuw Amsterdam is a small (by today’s standards) ship, at 33,930 gross tons and 1,214 passengers. However, on this cruise we only had around 950 passengers, so the public rooms were never crowded.

Wheelchair Access - Did not apply to us, but I have included it for the benefit of other future cruisers. There were very few places the one could not get to with a wheelchair. Top Deck (above The Crow’s Nest) and the tenders were about the only restrictions I saw. There were two passengers with those little electric scooters (Rascals ® ?). They went everywhere!

Medical Facilities - We didn’t have much of an opportunity to thoroughly check this out ourselves other than one visit to pick up a sea-sickness patch because the Bonine® tablets had made her too drowsy. Even though it was after passenger sick-call, and the doctor was only working with the staff, a nurse was happy to take care of my wife’s request. It would have been easy to ask us to return later, but she (the nurse) didn’t choose the easy way out. She was quite helpful and really friendly. Also, she informed us that the patch is not very effective, not recommended, and that HAL doesn’t carry them. She gave my wife “Sea-Calm” and explained that it is the same thing as Bonine®, just with a different name. Advised Pat to take only a half a tablet, is she was feeling uneasy, and the other half at bedtime. As it turned out, she only needed it that one day as the two days we were crossing the Gulf Stream were a little rough.

Later on, we had an opportunity to see the medical staff in action (so to speak). One of the passengers was taken ill. Her condition was so critical that the captain altered course and made ‘full turns’ for the nearest U.S. Coast Guard station (Key West). The doctor and his staff were able to stabilize the passenger and prepare her for helicopter evacuation. Naturally, the information released by HAL was limited due to medical confidentiality (and the fact that it really was none of our business), but the captain said that the medical staff was solely responsible for having saved the lady’s life. A big hand to the U.S. Coast Guard too.

OK, on to my favorite aspect of cruising … food!

We were scheduled for second seating as I had been concerned that we might end up a little rushed to make it to early seating if some of our shore excursions were late returning to the ship. In retrospect, I recommend booking early seating. If your excursion is late returning, the Maitre d’hôtel will be only too happy to accommodate you into the later seating. Additionally, early seating will give you plenty of time to rebuild your appetite before the Midnight Buffets!

We were seated at table #27. It was a window table for four, but set for two (Just For Us package), back to the rear of the Manhattan Dining Room, on the right side.

Manhattan Dining Room - Much has been said in many reviews that HAL food is bland, not on a par with five star land restaurants, and generally lacking sophistication. Nothing is farther from the truth! We found the taste, freshness, variety and presentation to be among the best we have ever experienced. The average dinner had six appetizers, three soups (one chilled), two salads, five entrees, a vegetarian entree, two carving board, and four ‘light’ selections. There was at least one selection in each category classified as a ‘spicy’ dish. Servings were not the huge portions you are used to in your local restaurant; but, then again HAL serves quality, not quantity. If you want seconds, thirds, fourths, etc. It’s just a request away.

Room Service - We have broken this category into two sections. Regular and Special Room Service.

We found the ‘regular’ room service to be adequate. We ordered continental breakfast every morning. It was always on time and the order was correct. If you use this service, we recommend you butter your toast/muffin immediately. It is delivered hot, but will cool quickly. My wife called down once for a sandwich. It was delivered promptly, but was nothing spectacular. I brought up a couple tuna sandwiches from the deli bar a little later. She said that they were much better than what she had delivered. 

The ‘special’ room service was nothing short of a repeat of the Manhattan Dining Room. As part of our Just For Us package, we had ‘Dutch High Tea - En Suite.’ It was delivered with typical timeliness and was a wonder. This was not just a tea service, this included a huge selection of over a dozen different pastries, chocolates and fruits, six types of tea and impeccable service. We also had ‘Champagne Desert - En Suite’ one evening (Pat’s birthday). Again, the service far and away exceeded our expectations!

Lido Restaurant - We loved the Lido. Home of the 24 hour cappuccino machine. The Nieuw Amsterdam has arranged the Lido service in two areas. Restaurant and poolside.

The restaurant has two lines. Both (usually) have identical selections so there was seldom a delay. On occasion, one line will be set up for staff dining, but no one really objects if a guest goes through that side. There were always three, or more, salads, a large selection of fresh breads, rolls, biscuits and pastries, butter and margarine, a wide variety of beverages, entrees, side dishes, and … deserts … oh my goodness, the deserts! In addition to over a dozen sweets (including low-cal and sugar free) there is an ice cream bar where you can create your own masterpiece, or have the ‘soda jerk’ work his own magic for you. Then there is always the famous HAL Bread Pudding. The recipe is available from HAL, or you can write us. We’ll be happy to forward it.

Poolside there are, again, two serving areas, both are typically open from 11:30 AM until 2:30 PM. The BBQ grill always has hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst. The deli bar varies between sandwiches, wraps, taco bar, pasta bar, stir fry and pizza. 

Midnight Buffets - The Midnight Buffets typically begin around 11:15 PM and ends by Midnight. If you are planning on attending this on a regular basis, again, I recommend you book early seating in the dining room, otherwise you are still too full from your evening meal to do justice to the wonderful spread HAL puts out. The theme of the buffet varied every night between Italian, Alaskan, Caribbean, Mexican, South Western, French, New England, German, Dutch, Oriental, Californian, Mediterranean, All American and … you guessed it … CHOCOLATE!

Now, the ports.  Overall, we rated the ports of call at a 95. This was a very ‘port intensive’ cruise. Ten ports in fourteen days, yeah, that’s intense. OK hitting each port - 

San Juan, Puerto Rico - We did a walking tour of Old San Juan and El Moro Castle (fortress actually). The old city is only about seven square blocks (hey, they didn’t have urban sprawl back then). It is surrounded by stone fortress walls that are over twenty feet thick in places. Don’t forget to stop by Casa Blanca (the White House). Home of Ponce de Leon. He is interred in San Juan Cathedral, just a few blocks away. Don’t forget to stop and see San Jose Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Americas (built in 1532). San Juan has a robust economy and although tourism does play an important part of that economy, it is not so significant the you will be pestered by street people, souvenir salespeople or offers to ‘braid your hair lady?’ Taxis are readily available and are metered. Spanish is the predominant language, but English is widely spoken. One note - Puerto Rico is United States territory. Thus, all purchases are exempt and do not count toward your United States Customs allowance (i.e., you can bring in as much Baccardi Rum as you can carry, duty free)! We liked San Juan.

St. Thomas & St. Johns, U.S. Virgin Islands - This is a Mecca for those into ‘power shopping’ and your dollars will do well here. Again, this is United States territory and, as such, your purchases are again considered as having been bought in the United States. We hired a taxi at dockside (Antonio Gumbs - TP#1183 - 340-774-7457) to take us over to Magens Bay, and arranged to have him pick us up two hours later for a private island tour. Make sure you settle on a price first and have cash. No traveler’s checks and no charge cards. We had made arrangements for para-sailing  with Captain Scotty (Norton) of High Fever ParaSail ( Unfortunately, when we arrived, he was out with a couple of other customers whom he had to return to another location. Then, he was delayed by a rain shower that passed though (gusting winds = no para-sailing). By the time Captain Scotty was finally headed our way, Antonio had returned and we (Pat that is) were ready to hit Charlotte Amalie’s shopping district. Although we didn’t take the formal Island tour, Antonio did give a mini-tour enroute back to the port. Sorry Scotty. Next time for sure!

Pointe-A-Pitre, Guadeloupe - We did not go ashore in Guadeloupe. Pat has been there before and was not favorably impressed. Guadeloupe is a district (state) of France and the attitude of the citizens it typical of France. They are not ‘snooty’ or ‘aloof’ as some have described; they are just ‘very discriminating’ in their cultural interaction. I suppose that is a polite way of putting it. Since we don’t speak French and were not that interested in any of the tours, we had a ‘ship day.’ Fellow cruisers, who did go ashore were split on their opinions. Many good buys on French items (perfumes, wines, champagne, etc.) and many of the men were ‘favorably impressed’ with some of the topless beaches. Taxis here are not metered and can be expensive. Use caution. There is a 20% value added tax on all purchases, but, if you purchase with traveler’s checks or a credit card, this fee is waived. 

Bridgetown, Barbados - The cruise ship docks are about one mile from town and a shuttle bus is mandatory ($1). Taxis are available for about $4 per person and can be hired on an hourly basis ($20-25 per hour). In Barbados, we opted for the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel tour. The ‘Tiami II’ is a 60 foot fiberglass catamaran, with a price tag of about $650,000. The crew was very good, personable, entertaining and knowledgeable. We sailed for about 40 minutes and were escorted buy hundreds of flying fish. They ranged from babies (about 6 inches long) to adults at around 12 inches and 2-3 pounds. They don’t actually ‘fly.’ They have elongated pectoral fins and when the break the surface of the water, they extend these fins, catch the wind and glide. Some ‘flights’ were as long as 100 yards or more. We also were ‘buzzed’ by the Concorde coming into the airport at Bridgetown. Beautiful plane and not nearly as noisy as some have said. We finally tied up over a small wreck in about 60 feet of water. You could clearly see the bottom and the light reflecting off the approaching fish. Yes, they are well trained. When the shadow things arrive, food appears… By the time we got our gear on (vest, mask, snorkel, and fins are provided at no charge) and into the water, we were surrounded by thousands of bright, flashing, colorful fish! I had allotted myself only one underwater camera per dive as I was pretty sure that I would go through dozens if given the chance. Good move on my part. I used up my underwater camera in just a few minutes. Enroute back to the ship, we had a very nice buffet lunch. The local specialty (fried flying fish) was included. Not bad. Needed the fresh lime juice though.

Castries, St. Lucia - An absolutely beautiful port! Was on Top Deck (my favorite hang-out) for our arrival. Very picturesque and one of my favorites of the entire cruise. We took the Island Splendor Drive. This was a tour by 20 passenger bus. We first toured the city, then started our climb up the twisting mountain roads. Scary enough but add to it the fact that they drive on the ‘wrong’ side here and there were more than a few ‘Oh my’s!’ from our fellow tourists. We stopped at the top of the peak for a photo-opportunity and were besieged by vendors. They are persistent but polite and do take ‘No thank you’ as a ‘No’.  One hint. When you settle on a price for something, have exact change. Otherwise you get your change back in additional goods (earrings, etc.). Next stop was at a local woodcarving shop. Beautiful carvings and (surprise) plenty of time to make your purchases. Then it was off to a fishing village (another opportunity to buy all that good tourist stuff).  We were a little put out by some of the pushiness of some locals. Primarily the young kids and the Rastas. ‘Hey mon, you take my picture. OK?’ ‘Now, gimme dollar.’ Saw one boy carrying a puppy. As soon as someone petted it or mentioned how cute it was, the pitch was made. ‘Hey lady, gimme dollar so I can get him some food.’ Yeah, right. The puppy was only about 5 weeks old and still nursing. No doubt in my mind that as soon as the tourists left, the pup would be back with mama and happily drinking away. The kid was good though. I watched him collect about $20-25 within 15 minutes. Nice racket. What was sad about the whole thing is that St. Lucia has a strong economy and almost no unemployment, except for what can only be referred to as ‘elected unemployment.’ Still, St. Lucia is a beautiful country and one to which we would both like to return.

Isla de Margarita, Venezuela - Here we opted for the La Restinga Lagoon tour. It was an escorted bus tour to a national park and wildlife sanctuary. Our guide, Antonio (‘Call me Tony!’) was very knowledgeable and quite entertaining, Many of the ladies seemed quite taken with him. Lucky guy. The first leg of our tour was about 20 minutes. At the lagoon, we were divided into 3 and 4 person groups and boarded small (16’) tour boats with a park guide. Our guide, Umberto, zipped us out into the park, pointing out various beasties along the way. Slowing down, he edged into a clump of mangroves and, reaching into the water, he caught a beautiful orange seahorse in a glass jar. After passing it around and getting all our pictures, he gently released it back into it’s nest. A little later, he caught a bright red starfish, about 5” across. Again we passed it around and it too went home. We saw plenty of herons, cranes, loons and at least one osprey (sea eagle). Although Venezuela is very dependent on oil for it’s economy, it is apparent that they are taking a strong ecological stance. I think that’s great! Next, we drove over to a very nice botanical garden and labyrinth. It was quite informative and beautiful. Again, the message of ecological responsibility was emphasized. The third part of our tour was a stop at a pottery and pearl boutique. Some great deals here.

Kralendijk, Bonaire - Absolutely my  favorite island! I’m ready to retire there right now. Unfortunately, my Best Half has other ideas. She has five more years until she retires and she wants Aruba. More on that later. In Bonaire, we, again, went snorkeling. Dive-Inn Bonaire ( runs a very nice transfer and snorkel trip to ‘No Name’ Beach. Actually, it was a secluded beach on the northern shore of Klein (Little) Bonaire. The waters here were even better that in Barbados. The sand beach ran out to about the 60 foot mark, then dropped off at a 45 degree slope. The fish were more than plentiful and much greater variety. As opposed to Barbados, no feeding was required. They were as naturally curious of us as we were of them. Back ashore, one can get some great buys. The following items are duty free: 14K and 18K gold or sterling silver jewelry, lead crystal over 24%, and Lladro porcelain. Taxis are not metered, but rates are set by the government. Ask to see the published rate list if you have questions. Hourly rental is about $12.50.

Orangestad, Aruba - Here is where Pat wants to retire to. I can almost agree with her. In Aruba we did not take any of the ship’s tours, choosing instead to strike out on our own. Basically, a final shopping opportunity before heading back to ‘the world’. Between the Royal Plaza Mall, the Seaport Village Mall, the Port Of Call Marketplace and the Seaport Marketplace, there are plenty of shops with everything you could want, and at reasonable prices. Don’t forget to visit Carlos & Charlie’s! We docked right in the heart of downtown Orangestad, immediately behind Celebrity’s Horizon. Like Bonaire, the Dutch influence here is obvious. Very clean and the people were ever so polite and friendly. I was a bit concerned about what appeared to be a significant lack of driving skills on the part of many locals and countered by being a very defensive pedestrian! If you are going by taxi, the cabs are not metered, but rates are set by the government. 

Georgetown, Grand Cayman - This was our final stop on the cruise and we elected to swim with the sting rays, so … off to Sting Ray City with the crew of the Cockatoo. Accompanying us was a wonderful young lady from Deep Blue Images (, an underwater photography/videography studio. She had an underwater digital video camera which made my Kodak Underwater Disposable® look rather puny by comparison. Arriving at Sting Ray City (actually a sandbar between Conch and Rum Points, and about a stone’s throw from Hell), we anchored the catamaran and hopped in the water. It was about 3’-4’ deep, with gentle waves. Within minutes we were surrounded by dozens of sting rays. They are really quite gentle and will rub up against your legs just like a friendly cat. Your tour operator will have ray bait available (cut up squid). Hold it in your hand, between your fingers, palm up. The ray will come over your hand an suck it right out of your hand! Don’t worry, they don’t have teeth, just grinding plates; but, the can give you a nasty ‘hickey’ if you’re not careful. Pat even managed to hold one. The wranglers will show you how. We had a great time. The video tape was a bit expensive ($40) but well worth it!

Now, for some other aspects of the cruise -

Cruise Activities - There was something happening, somewhere, all the time on the Nieuw Amsterdam. There are scheduled activities starting from 6:30 AM until Midnight every day. On-board activities ran the gamut from an extensive ‘Passport To Fitness’ program to midnight strolling the deck with your best friend, under a full Caribbean moon and a sky overfilled with stars. The fitness program included: 20 Minute Workout, Walk-A-Mile, Low Impact Aerobics, Absolute Abs, Non-Surgical Face Lift, Style Challenge, Shuffleboard, Ring toss, Easy Inch Loss, Deck tennis, Ping pong, Stretch And Relax, Volleyball, Swimming, Hot tub, Sauna, Golf Chipping, Total Body Conditioning, Free weights, Nautilus machines, Stationary bikes, etc. Whew! I worked up a sweat just typing all that. Other activities included: ship’s tour, galley tour, bridge tour, wine tasting, lifeboat drill (hey, I enjoyed it!), individual and team trivia, big band dancing, ‘Cigars Under The Stars,’ napkin folding demonstrations, coffee and cognac tasting, floor shows, art auctions, bridge tournaments, sing-along, new release motion pictures, port and shopping talks, the casino, cooking and ice carving demonstrations, bingo (one pot went at over $5,000!), trivia contests, BBQ and a few other things we didn’t have time to find out about.

Was this cruise good for honeymooners? - There are two views on this one. Although HAL has a reputation for being ‘The Old Folks Line’, marriage and honeymoons don’t really have anything to do with age, do they? On one hand, most newlyweds are younger (20-30) and may not find the excitement level of this ship up to their expectations. On the other hand, our cruise had 16 honeymoon couples. The Manhattan Dining Room has plenty of tables for two available. Just ask when booking. We ended up with a table for four, set for two. Plenty of ‘elbow room’ and space for the extra servings whenever I went on a feeding frenzy. The honeymooner’s cabins were marked with a nice little nosegay on the door. Additionally, there are plenty of places on the ship where a couple can just ‘be together’ and share some quiet time.  

How about families? - Again, I hesitate to exclude families with children from booking HAL. They have an excellent Club HAL program for children complete with a separate ‘nightclub’ (The Big Apple) and video arcade just for the ‘tweens and teens. On our cruise there were less than a dozen children. Two were infants in arms, two or three toddlers, the Captain’s children, a couple children of other crewmembers and one young lady (around seven) who was actually a passenger. The Children’s Program Director had an easy cruise. Those children were spoiled beyond beyond. Unfortunately, they also had around 900 ‘honorary’ grandparents watching over them. A lot of pinched cheeks and lipstick marks on foreheads! If your children are not ‘well behaved’, then  HAL is the wrong cruise line for your family.

Seniors ? - Absolutely! By seniors we are not talking old ‘fuddy-duddies’ or ‘sticks-in-the mud’. Heck, although Pat and I are hovering around 50, those ‘old folks’ wore us out! The entertainment is currently geared to the kids of the 1930’s - 40s, or, as Tom Brocaw put it … ‘The Greatest Generation’. String quartets, grand pianos, strolling musicians, big band music, and more quiet, refined entertainment. In ten years, it will be the 1940’s - 50’s generations, and so on. You figure out where you stand and get ready, Your time is coming!

The Cruise Director - What can I say about T.J. Edens? Well, let’s see … with over 17 years of cruise experience, T.J. is your ‘typical’ Cruise Director. He was everywhere, all the time. He had more vitality and enthusiasm than a pack of crazed chimpanzees in a banana factory! He could always be counted on to have up to date information on who, what, where and when on any aspect of the cruise. The wealth of activities he was (ultimately) responsible for was nothing short of astounding. If a passenger was ‘bored’ or otherwise had ‘nuthin’ to do’, it was certainly their own fault. T.J. and staff worked 26 hours a day to provide good entertainment and they certainly succeeded.

The rest of the staff - The staff of the Nieuw Amsterdam, like that of every HAL ship was fantastic! The wait staff (cabin stewards, waiters, assistant waiters, and head waiters) are predominantly from Indonesia. The bartenders, wine stewards and waitresses are from the Philippines. The galley staff (chefs, sou-chefs, cooks and assistants) are from ‘everywhere’. The ship really is a mini-United Nations. Their commercials are accurate. We enjoyed the Bell-Captain ringing the gongs to announce dinner. The bartenders and hostesses were pleasant and attentive without being pushy. Everyone, from the Chief Engineer on down to the deck hands was friendly, polite and professional.

Of course, like all cruise reviewers, here is our chance to extend a special thanks to three people who did so much to make this cruise a truly wonderful experience for us.

Our Cabin Steward - Sapto. A wonderful young man and truly a delight. Our cabin was always clean and neat, the ice bucket filled and we always received a cherry, ‘Good morning Mr. Steinke, Mrs. Steinke.’ He took special effort to find out when we were going on a shore excursion that involved the water and on our return from breakfast to pick up our gear, we always had a couple large beach towels waiting for us to take along. We never asked for them, they ‘just appeared’. We made his day by keeping things organized thanks to my Ultimate Packing List.

Next, our Waiter - Rushdi. If ever there was a stereotypical gentlemen’s gentleman, it is Rushdi. He pampers without being obnoxious.  Very attentive and knowledgeable . His recommendations were always right on the mark and we never lacked for anything. Always nearby, but never intrusive. We made the usual inquiry as to his next assignment (the Nieuw Amsterdam has been sold to American Hawaii Lines and the staff are being reassigned). We were saddened to hear that Rushdi is finally leaving Holland America and retiring from the sea, to return to his wife and family in Indonesia. Although we are happy for him and his family, we are sad for all the future cruisers who will never have the opportunity to experience this gentleman.

Finally, our Assistant Waiter - Bonie. This young man has a song in his heart and on his lips. He was a joy to be around. On the first evening he asked for our beverage preferences and never made a mistake over the next 14 days! An excellent conversationalist and very knowledgeable of his craft. He takes great pride in his work and it shows! One word of warning, if you have Bonie as your Waiter (yes, he’s getting promoted), be careful, he serves the hottest coffee on the ship!

One last point concerning the wait staff. If you book a subsequent cruise with Holland America, and request a certain waiter, he will be assigned to you. Period. Bonie explained that the line will even go so far as to reassign a waiter from one ship to another if he is requested by a Holland America Alumni! I checked with the Maitre d’hôtel  (Hugo van Joolen) and he verified that this was the case! We are certainly looking forward to seeing Bonie again, in Alaska!

Beauty Salon Staff - Pat was pampered and spoiled like never before by these fine folks. From massage to hair to nails to pedicure to facials, Nadine was fantastic. She certainly knows her craft and is a major asset to Steiner’s (the on board Salon concession).

Finally, the two weeks was over and it was time to leave. Debarkation was a fairly painless process (if you can ignore the pain of realizing that the vacation of a lifetime is about to finally end - sniff!). We were provided a debarkation number based on when and how we were leaving the area. In our case, our daughter was picking us up at pier side and taking us to the airport for a 5:30 PM flight. We received number ‘24.’ Our luggage was placed outside our cabin the night before. After a leisurely breakfast in bed (yes, they do deliver on departure morning), followed by an even more leisurely breakfast in the Manhattan dining room (can you tell we’re trying to delay departure?), we finally went to the Lido Deck to say goodbye to a few friends. Debarkation proper was supposed to begin at 9:00 AM, but didn’t actually start until around 9:45 AM as there were a few non-US passengers who failed to report to the Card Room to clear Customs and Immigration. If you’ve ever cruised before, you’ll know what I’m speaking of when I say, ‘There are always a few …’ Our number was called at about 10:25 and by 10:35 we had our luggage and were passing through Customs.

Negatives - Since this was a combination belated honeymoon, anniversary, and birthday for Pat, I ordered the Just For Us package ($395). This includes: One dozen red roses in the stateroom, A bottle of Mums Cordon Rouge champagne, two plush terry cloth robes, and a package of Dutch chocolates in the stateroom on arrival; Dutch High Tea service (En-suite) one afternoon; Champagne desert (En-suite) one evening, two half hour massages, an engraved silver frame and formal photograph; and a table for two in the dining room. They almost got it right. When we arrived there was only one robe and the roses were nowhere to be found. A small point, but sometimes it’s the little things that really get under your skin. It took two telephone calls, over a two day period to get the missing robe and roses delivered, but, thankfully, the staff at the front desk was very concerned and kept at it until the problem was resolved. Kudos to them!

Overall Cruise Value / The Bottom Line - Would we sail with Holland America again?


Seriously, we have already started the booking process for our next HAL cruise. A seven day Alaska Southbound (Anchorage to Vancouver) for the two of us - be joined in Vancouver by two (maybe three) other couples and our children/grandchildren - then a seven  day Alaska Northbound (Vancouver to Anchorage) with everyone - finishing up with a seven day HAL land tour for ourselves and whomever can still get the time off work.

Believe me, we wouldn’t drop those kind of $$$’s unless we were firm believers in the HAL product!

John Steinke

Photo--Courtesy of Holland America Line

More Holland America Line Reviews