You say Manhattan. I say “The Big Apple.” We both call it New York. Back in the 17th century, New York City went by the name Nieuw Amsterdam. Contemporary versus classic. That, in a New York minute, is the theme carried out on board Holland America Line’s newest ship, Nieuw Amsterdam.
Launched in July 2010, the 2,106-passenger ship boasts a personality all her own. On the classic side, she is the fourth ship to bear the name in the line’s 138-year history. Going contemporary, she is the sister to Eurodam and the second in the line’s impressive new Signature-class vessels.
Like any new sibling, Nieuw Amsterdam has been tweaked – no bar in the atrium reception area, softer colours and a key-card activated electric system in the staterooms.
The New York theme, while evident throughout, is pleasantly restrained rather than in-your-face glitzy. It is primarily reflected in the multi-million dollar art collection. The most striking example by far is Gilbert Lebigre and Corinne Roger’s translucent block chandelier crafted to mirror the New York skyline and its elongated reflection in the harbour.
This revolving masterpiece hangs at the ship’s centre, above the three-deck Atrium. It is best viewed from the circular glass stairway leading up from the reception and shore excursion counters to the Pinnacle Bar and Pinnacle Grill, and finally the Ocean Bar.
Other tributes to New York include a larger-than-life metallic apple sculpture. And, in a nod to Radio City Music Hall, scantily-clad cabaret dancers swing from hoops on either side of the Showroom at Sea’s upper tier.
A mural of the bustling city waterfront hangs across from the Explorer’s Lounge. Be sure to look closely, as the cleverly drawn skyscrapers are actually ornate chests of drawers. Club Hal, the youth playroom, sports an authentic New York Checker Cab, a typical hot dog cart and graffiti on several walls.
Ship models large and small tucked into stairway landings and alcoves carry on a Holland America tradition. Classic Dutch touches can also be found in the form of blue-and-white tile murals and old-world Dutch motifs in the stateroom art.
As on other ships in the fleet, an entertaining audio tour of the artwork is available from the librarian. The 40-minute walking tour makes an excellent introduction to the ship’s layout, as well as its exceptional art collection.
Shifting to the dining scene, New York’s fabled restaurant, Le Cirque debuted across the fleet in late 2010. Dinner at Le Cirque is celebrated in the Pinnacle Grill one night each cruise. The entire venue is devoted to the event featuring a select menu and whimsical, circus-themed china (tumbling monkeys) from the namesake restaurant.
The wines, a short list of Le Cirque recommendations, ranges from a California Conundrum at $39 to Italy’s Castello Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino at $108.
The four-course Le Cirque dinner begins with lobster salad, followed by a creamy sweet corn soup poured at table from a metal pot. The main course offers a choice of wild halibut, rack of lamb or an overly generous portion of aged prime rib strip steak. Desserts are crème brulee, chocolate soufflé or refreshing sorbets.
The attentive tableside service and presentation alone elevate this dining experience. Considering the New York price of just the lobster salad is $45, the ship’s $39 surcharge ($59 with three glasses of wine) is a bargain.
Other nights, the Pinnacle Grill returns to the line’s signature restaurant ($20 surcharge; $10 at lunch). Sparkling chandeliers illuminate this elegant space, which I found more refined and less glittery than other ships in the fleet. Grilled Sterling Silver steaks and flaming skewers of beef or lamb attract most diners, though other choices include troll-caught Alaskan salmon and lobster macaroni and cheese.
Tamarind, a lovely pan-Asian dining option ($15), can be tricky to find, but well worth the effort. Together with the Silk Den bar, it is located on Deck 11 amidships. You need to be at the proper elevator bank or staircase (of three) to reach these intriguing sea-view venues. Tamarind, introduced on Eurodam, served my personal favorite dinner, a spicy satay sampler, green papaya salad and Szechuan shrimp. A dim sum lunch is served without surcharge.
The two level Manhattan Dining Room opens for dinner at assigned tables (two sittings), or you may dine ‘As You Wish.’ Fresh flowers, one of the line’s signature niceties, adorn all tables. The dining room faces aft and offers three-way ocean views with the ambiance of a Manhattan steakhouse due mainly to its rich red and dark gray décor.
For casual dining, the Lido buffet, poolside Terrace Grill and Slice pizza offer meals from 6.30am until midnight. With separate stations for salads, sandwiches, hot dishes, Asian treats and desserts, waiting time is minimal.
Finding an open table either inside or by the aft Sea View or central Lido pools was never an issue. Getting dinner reservations at the casual Italian hot spot Canaletto, however, was a challenge. This attractive venue located in a forward corner of the Lido is dressed up each evening with white tablecloths and fresh roses.
Holland America prides itself on being a premium cruise line, and I was delighted to find traditional complimentary perks remain intact in these days of expanding extra charges. Cappuccinos, for example, are offered free-of-charge with meals in the dining room. At breakfast, the orange juice is fresh-squeezed.
Speaking of breakfast, a full complement of hot dishes is available from room service. Eggs are kept hot with special warming plates and your room service steward does not ask for your signature or a tip.
Most cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center, even learning to prepare dishes from Le Cirque, are free and include a tasty sample. There is no fee for computer classes in the Digital Workshop, nor for selecting DVDs and watching movies in your stateroom.
Out on deck, private cabanas have entered the scene. The semi-secluded retreats are found starboard adjacent to the Lido pool and whirlpools, as well as in the exclusive Deck 11 Cabana Club. Each curtained-off space is furnished with loungers and table and chairs and rents by the day ($30-$115) or week ($199-$449). Judging from my recent Caribbean cruise, cabanas have gained a following – book early.
Nieuw Amsterdam’s Greenhouse Spa, forward on Deck 9, offers all the expected treatments, plus a new bamboo stick rub. The spa features a sea-view waiting room, hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite with heated ceramic beds. A well-equipped gym and exercise floor occupies an expansive space forward of the spa.
With the exception of Deck 11’s Crow’s Nest observation bar and Explorations Café for coffees, the Internet and library, public rooms are grouped on Decks 2 and 3. Here, you’ll find the comfy Screening Room for popcorn and current films and an open Shopping Mall, designed without walls, that sells logo items, jewellery, perfumes and duty-free liquor. A classic promenade encircles Deck 3, to the delight of walkers, bookworms and sun-worshippers alike.
The always bustling Casino is flanked with bars, including the Casino Bar, a wildly popular sports bar. Each night, the Piano Bar attracts loyal listeners who gather around the piano to sing along to old favourites.
The Northern Lights disco, made to resemble a trendy ice bar, was the least used venue during my cruise, likely due to the 50-plus age of most passengers. The adjacent Queen’s Lounge, on the other hand, attracted late-night guests with cabaret-style shows performed up-close and personal.
When it came to entertainment, though, the real star was the three-deck, red and black Showroom at Sea. Shows, produced by Stiletto Entertainment of Los Angeles, favoured experienced performers, several with Broadway credits. As many as six singers (up from the usual four) belted it out in the entertaining ‘NYC’ and ‘Garage Band’ productions. Dance, displaying a wide variety of steps and lifts, was highlighted and exceptional.
Last, but far from least, I was impressed to discover a full breakfast available from room service on disembarkation day. “We want to keep you in a positive mood until you step off the ship,” commented hotel manager, Marco Van Belleghem. A hot meal and not being rushed out of our stateroom certainly did the trick.
No doubt about it, Holland America enthusiasts will feel at home aboard Nieuw Amsterdam. Tweaking the ship has enhanced, rather than upstaged, familiar venues and decades of cruising tradition.
NIEUW AMSTERDAM FACT FILE
Maiden voyage: July 2010
Speed: 24.5 knots
Passenger decks: 11
Registry: The Netherlands
ITINERARIES: Mediterranean sailings April through October; Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) in winter.
MORE INFO: In the UK, call 0845 351 0557; in the US, 1877 932 4259; or visit www.hollandamerica.com.