Readers of the influential Porthole Magazine rate the Holland America mid-sized ship ‘best of’ in multiple categories – including best mid-sized ship.

If the cruise industry had Oscar awards, the MS Nieuw Amsterdam would be a big winner based on a 2011 survey undertaken by Porthole magazine, a respected publication covering worldwide cruising. The magazine’s annual Readers Choice Awards gave the ship top ratings in a variety of categories including best new mid-size ship, best shore excursions, best private island, and best cruise itineraries for Alaska, Canada/New England and Central America. Of course, there are no Oscars for the cruise trade; nevertheless, the Readers Choice recognition is a feather in the cap for the Nieuw Amsterdam, the latest Holland America Line (HAL) vessel to join its fleet.

It’s hardly surprising HAL has cruising and shipbuilding down pat since it has been doing business on the high seas for 137 years. The Nieuw Amsterdam’s onboard hotel manager, Mark Zeller, says the company is proud of its long history, its fleet of 15 ships and the fact its newest vessel has been so well received by the cruising public.

Michael McGraw and Trixie Bursey, an Uxbridge, Ontario-based couple say they chose a January 2012 Caribbean cruise aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam largely because it was a new ship. They were not disappointed and, in fact, they generally liked everything about it including their roomy stateroom with balcony and a well-designed bathroom with the luxury of a full tub.

“As far as onboard entertainment goes we liked it all, especially the nightly piano bar,” said McGraw. What the couple was particularly impressed with was the service level and friendliness of a staff that is largely Indonesian and Filipino. “At the end of the cruise it’s a nice keepsake touch that passengers are given a copy of the ship’s log that serves as a record of where the boat sailed and the port stops it made,” he said.

I too embarked on the same cruise and agreed with the couple’s overall assessment of this elegant new vessel. Moreover, I couldn’t help thinking that the marketing slogan HAL used during the 1950s (It’s good to be on a well run ship) is equally as valid today as it was more than a half century ago.

The Ship
People who have already sailed on HAL’s MS Eurodam will have no trouble finding their way around the Nieuw Amsterdam since the pair are identical sister ships almost as long as three football fields.

Both feature 12 decks and can accommodate upwards of 2,150 passengers. Like the Eurodam, its twin sibling incorporates two main dining rooms (one open seating and one fixed seating), a large buffet restaurant, three specialty restaurants requiring a modest service charge, outdoor grill, Italian trattoria and pizza place.

Likewise, there is an elegant spa, internet room, library, casino, grand show theatre, two pools (one adult-only), fitness centre, shops and several bars and lounges. During its 2012 inaugural season, it’s estimated that 750,000 passengers will cruise aboard the company’s newest vessel.

The New York City Connection
Featured on the ship is $3 million in artwork with much of it following a Big Apple theme since New York City was originally named New Amsterdam. One of the prominent features of the theme is a giant sculpture made of clear translucent blocks that hangs from the ceiling of the ship‘s main atrium.

Anyone who carefully examines it will realize it is an upside-down replication of the New York skyline. Throughout the ship there is a splendid collection of paintings, photos and prints showing historic HAL vessels sailing the high seas and in some cases entering the New York harbour.

One of the ship’s most interesting New York-related attractions is found in the HAL Kids Club on Deck 10. The centrepiece of the room is a 1950s vintage New York City yellow cab that’s the real deal – not a reproduction.

Following the sun
This particular six-day cruise made two port stops (Jamaica and Grand Cayman) plus one day at HAL’s private island, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. However, during the winter season, the ship offers a good selection of eastern, western and southern Caribbean itineraries from seven to 14-day voyages departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Depending on a particular cruise, port stops can include Puerto Rico, St. Maartin, St. Lucia, Dominica, Honduras and Turks and Caicos. At the end of April, the Nieuw Amsterdam will leave the sunny Caribbean for summer cruising in the Mediterranean.

Top Notch – Tamarind Restaurant rated best in the cruise industry
The first of two features that left a significant impression on me was the ship’s Tamarind restaurant. This is no ordinary dining spot; and everyone that I spoke to onboard heaped praises on its Pan-Asian cuisine. The Tamarind has been voted the best alternative restaurant in the entire cruise industry – a recognition that is well deserved. Reservations are needed and dinner requires a small service fee of $15. This intimate restaurant that has limited seating also serves a Dim Sum lunch menu; while out of this world dinner entrees include Penang red curry coconut chicken, wasabi and soy crusted beef tenderloin, shrimp tempura, sushi and sashimi.

Advice to anybody who cruises aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam: do not miss dining at the Tamarind.

The other top notch feature that stood out over others was a Grand Cayman shore excursion called a Stingray City Sandbar Cruise. There are plenty of excursions to choose from but I luckily picked this one only to find out later that National Geographic describes it as one of the most rewarding experiences in the underwater world. A covered boat takes participates to an offshore location called Stingray City where, not surprisingly, the ocean here teems with stingrays large and small. In only four feet of water, people can actually pet and hold these graceful creatures. These particular stingrays have become accustomed to people and it’s quite something to hold and caress these gentle fish that clearly enjoy the interaction.

Jamaica’s new Falmouth port – the best in The Caribbean
Historically, cruise line itineraries that included a port stop in Jamaica typically docked at either Montego Bay or Ocho Rios. Now, however, the opening last year of a new $180 million port at the Georgian-inspired, north shore town of Falmouth a few miles east of Montego Bay is a distinct alternative. This expensive new port was on the Nieuw Amsterdam’s itinerary and it wasn’t difficult to see where the big dollars were spent. As passengers disembark the ship they enter a vast, gated compound of pretty paved streets, water fountains, scores and scores of duty free shops, restaurants, boutiques and a large local crafts market. In terms of visual appeal, this lavish new port arguably tops the list of Caribbean port stops.

For more information about the Nieuw Amsterdam and other HAL vessels and their cruises go online at or call 1-877-932-4259.
Most travel agents can also provide detailed information about HAL including the company’s special cruise deals.

Related Posts