Asian restaurant Tamarind is one of multiple dining venues onboard Nieuw Amsterdam. // © 2014 Holland America Line
Feature image (above): Expanded menus and entertainment options are keeping Nieuw Amsterdam fresh after five years in service. // © 2014 Holland America Line
Launched by Holland American Line (HAL) in 2010, Nieuw Amsterdam did a wonderful job keeping one foot squarely in the elegant, familiar traditions of HAL while introducing new features designed to attract a bigger demographic.
Now in its fifth year of service, Nieuw Amsterdam has continued to maintain that balance by making additions to the onboard experience that are focused on psychographics rather than age demographics. Instead of developing separate features catering to different generations, HAL has found common denominators that appeal to a comprehensive range of guests — from 30-somethings to World War II veterans. What’s more, new programs, such as the year-old partnership with “Dancing with the Stars,” have been introduced without eliminating any of the daily activities that many guests have come to love.
When I sailed on Nieuw Amsterdam earlier this year, on the sailing that hosted the finals for “Dancing with the Stars,” I was struck by how new the ship felt and the universality of the ship’s appeal. The dancers and fans added a verve and enthusiasm that spread to everyone — even people who did not have a compelling interest in the competition — and the connections between different generations made for new friendships and abundant conversation.
HAL’s traditional standout activities also enriched the line’s passenger base, from ballroom dancing and excellence in dining that spans Cupcake Tea to the most formal meals, plus entertainment such as the just-launched Nashville-themed B.B. King Blues Club, held five nights a week in the Queen’s Lounge.
Here’s an overview of today’s Nieuw Amsterdam:
Rooms have features with widespread appeal and a great deal of flexibility, including closet space that can be adjusted to include hanging items and shelving. All accommodations have Sealy Euro-Top mattresses, hypoallergenic pillows and flat-screen televisions with DVD players. The in-room system has more than 1,000 free movies with titles reflecting a broad variety of guest tastes. Nieuw Amsterdam is also the first HAL ship with keycard-activated lighting, which has been used by hotels as an energy-saving device for some time.
It’s important to check the deck plan within stateroom and suite categories, as size can vary with location, and some have bathtubs and showers or larger space for seating. Thirty accommodations — from Deluxe and Superior Verandah Suites to inside staterooms — are wheelchair accessible.
Onboard dining choices are varied enough for expansive appeal. HAL’s Culinary Council of well-known chefs provides daily recommendations on the dining room fare. Dining options include Pinnacle Grill and the Tamarind restaurant that specializes in Asian food. Meanwhile, HAL’s Master Chef’s Table serves a tasting dinner on selected evenings. Pinnacle Grill also holds a weekly Le Cirque dining presentation; at $49, it is essentially the cost of tax and tip alone at the New York’s Le Cirque restaurant.
HAL expanded the menu at Italian restaurant Canaletto at the beginning of the year, bringing in a trendy small-plates option that has passengers across the generations experimenting and comparing notes at dinner. Canaletto dining now has a $10 surcharge (which was formerly included).
Complimentary 24-hour room service is more extensive than what’s available on many other cruise lines and includes the opportunity to order from the dining room menu during dinner hours.
The two decks of spa staterooms have in-cabin healthy dining menus that appeal to younger cruisers as well as older passengers who are both physically active and health conscious. There is a 22-dish vegetarian menu in the two-story Manhattan Dining Room, which has spa choices and international dishes such as the Dutch uitsmijter (open-faced sandwich with eggs on top) at breakfast.
Three kinds of afternoon tea appear on different days: a whimsical Cupcake Tea; the traditional Dutch High Tea; and an Indonesian Tea Ceremony featuring a variety of teas and desserts.
Exclusivity is another factor appreciated by HAL passengers of all ages. Suite guests can choose to have breakfast separately at Pinnacle Grill, although the menu is the same as that of Manhattan Dining Room. They also have free laundry and dry-cleaning services, priority tender boarding and use of the private Neptune Lounge where snacks and drinks are available throughout the day.
Entertainment is designed to please both new and repeat HAL guests. The three-deck, 890-seat Showroom at Sea showcases production shows and entertainment ranging from comedians to illusionists. When I sailed on the Nieuw Amsterdam, it was packed two hours ahead of show time for the “Dancing with the Stars” final competition, accompanied by presentations by dance experts in their 40s.
Younger couples and older guests take full advantage of private nooks on Nieuw Amsterdam, so much so that travelers should make reservations as early as possible for the curtained cabanas placed along a wall of the Lido deck that rent for $35 (on port days) or $50 (on sea days) per day. The fee includes beverages and lunch served privately, and the cabanas come with iPods loaded with musical selections.
The Private Retreat, located on the deck above the Lido, is in even greater demand. Here, cabanas offering outdoor living/dining rooms include light breakfast and lunch and cost $45 to $115 per day, depending on their size. These should be reserved as early as possible after booking the cruise; by the time passengers board the ship, they are already reserved.
The year-old partnership with “Dancing with the Stars” has clearly expanded Nieuw Amsterdam’s guest mix. On this year’s cruise of dance finalists, guests of all ages were dancing in the evenings and attending daytime dance classes — as well as attending seminars on computer tips, photography lessons and demonstrations from celebrity chefs in the Culinary Arts Center.
North American dance studios are now sending “Dancing with the Stars” contestants to the ship year-round to compete. The contestants typically sail with their families — a very good potential target market for travel agents.
Nieuw Amsterdam sails alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises this winter, returning to the Mediterranean in April.