Date Posted: 21/03/2011
Jane Archer samples premium-style cruising on Holland America Line’s newest big small ship.
There are two things you must do as soon as you board Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. One is to reserve a table for dinner in Tamarind, the pan-Asian speciality restaurant, which serves the best food on the ship.
The other is to find the Ocean Bar on deck three, to see the chandelier. It’s not the biggest at sea, nor even the most ornate, but for sure it is the only one in the world that depicts the Manhattan skyline.
It’s all to do with the ship’s New York-themed décor – Nieuw Amsterdam was the Dutch name for New York City before the British took the territory in 1664 – so there are also montages of pictures from the Big Apple here and there, even a yellow cab in Club HAL, the playroom for kids aged eight to 12.
I watched the chandelier circle slowly round and round for ages, as I had been told the torch on the Statue of Liberty appears to light up if you look at it from the right angle. Nice story, but I suspect it is apocryphal.
Nieuw Amsterdam, launched in July 2010, is the newest and biggest vessel to join Holland America’s fleet, although at just over 86,000 tons and with room for only 2,106 passengers it is pretty small by today’s big ship standards. “It will fit through the Panama Canal with an inch to spare either side,” Stein Kruse, its president and chief executive officer, told me.
I’m not sure how useful that is given the ship is spending summers cruising between Venice and Barcelona and winters sailing eastern and western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, but he sees it as an important way to measure the ship’s size.
Basically, it’s not a big resort-style ship, but on the other hand it’s got more features than small ultra-luxury vessels. Not water slides and rock-climbing walls, although there are kids’ and teen clubs. Rather, Holland America positions itself in the premium cruise market – think classic cruising somewhere between Royal Caribbean and Silversea – so we’re talking state-of-the-art demo kitchens and exclusive cabanas.
We’re also talking multiple places to eat and cabins with extraordinarily comfy beds and pillows you sink into, fitted out with the best cotton sheets, towels, bathrobes. Holland America calls it collectively their Signature of Excellence, I call it some of the best nights sleep at sea I’ve ever had.
So here I am, sitting in St Tropez, sipping Champagne, looking at the Adriatic and idly wondering what makes it so blue.
No, I’ve not had too much of the fizzy stuff, or even the sun. St Tropez is one of six poolside cabanas, tents if you prefer, that you can rent for the day, pulling the curtain on the world when you want to hideaway, taking a quick dip when it’s time to cool off.
They are all individually named, as are another 14 on deck 11 that are even more exclusive because they are in a private Cabana Club with its own sun deck and loungers.
It’s all very decadent and a little pricey as well – $50 for a poolside cabana on sea days, $75 for one in the Cabana Club, including a glass of bubbly and strawberries dipped in chocolate - but no one said premium pampering comes cheap.
I admit I had my doubts about the demo kitchen, or Culinary Arts Centre to give it its proper name. I don’t want to cook at home, so why would I want to watch it while on holiday? But the room was packed and everyone was transfixed as one of the ship’s chefs showed us how to make a fishy starter.
Given such interest, it’s no surprise Holland America has devised a culinary groups programme for organisers, allowing them to use the facility, equipped with the latest in hot plates, pots and pans, for private demonstrations and talks.
I was only on Nieuw Amsterdam for a few nights, on a mini-cruise around the Aegean to celebrate its gala christening in Venice, but it was time enough to try out all the dining options – the Lido self-service for breakfast and lunch, when there is a bewildering choice of made-to-order deli sandwiches, pastas, stir-fries and salads, the main dining room for dinner one night.
You can eat at a fixed time and at the same table each evening, which works well for groups, but there is also an As You Wish option, which allows you to eat when you want if people want to do their own thing.
I also tried the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America’s signature steakhouse, which serves giant steaks, meat chops and fish dishes for a very reasonable $20 per person supplement; and Canaletto, an Italian bistro, which is free.
All were good, but my favourite was the afore-mentioned Tamarind for the tasty Asian food (spring rolls, curries, sweet-and-sour vegetables), the elegant wood décor and crushed velvet gold-and-purple upholstery, the unobtrusive, efficient service by the Asian wait staff.
I also rather like the price – just $15 per person, which was a bargain. As I said earlier, you need to book early to eat there; you do in all the speciality restaurants, as tables are snapped up fast. At that price, no wonder.
Good for groups
Holland America Line offers a special package of benefits for travel organisers who put together a culinary group of 25 or more people led by a local chef.
The Culinary Groups Programme includes use of the demo kitchen for two one-hour cookery demonstrations, a private wine-tasting and one $25 drinks card per stateroom.
Hands-on cookery classes and specially-designed menus can be arranged for smaller groups.
Holland America has other group packages, including one for wine lovers, with two one-hour tastings and a food and wine paired lunch in the Pinnacle Grill. A fun Girls Night Out includes lunch or dinner in the Pinnacle Grill and a manicure or pedicure in the Greenhouse Spa with a glass of bubbly.
There are 56 dedicated spa cabins on the ship, all with yoga mats and iPod docking stations that are perfect for groups of health and fitness fans. They’ll find an intriguing selection of massages, facials and body wraps in the spa (a bamboo massage anyone?) and there’s also a thermal suite and large gym.
Holland America gives away one free place for every eight cabins booked and various other group benefits can be earned including cocktail parties, free meals in the Pinnacle Grill and wine in the cabin.