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ms Nieuw Amsterdam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

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First Impressions

Holland America may have bucked tradition when it picked a non-Dutch term for the name of its last ship, Eurodam, but with Nieuw Amsterdam, it's back to its roots in a big way. The line's newest ship, a nearly identical sibling to Eurodam and the second in the Signature class, is the fourth in the company's history to carry the name.

The ship’s design is centered thematically on Manhattan’s wonders -- a perfect fit when you consider that the Netherlands and the "Big Apple" have a long relationship. The city was originally named Nieuw Amsterdam by the Dutch and, oddly enough, in the great port city of Rotterdam there are two major hotels that have New York in their names.

Onboard the new Nieuw Amsterdam, the Manhattan theme is particularly expressed in the multimillion-dollar collection of art displayed throughout the ship. Cruise passengers can borrow an iPod for a guided art tour of it all, but there are a few things we particularly love:

Above the atrium, the focal point of the ship, is a chandelier that's an abstract sculpture of the Manhattan skyline created from shiny, translucent blocks -- check it out from upper decks as well as from below (it hangs upside down). Look, too, for the massive, metal "big apple" on Deck 4.

Hanging throughout passenger corridors are framed black-and-white prints depicting classic cruise ships, ocean liners and other vessels traversing the Hudson River and framed by the Manhattan skyline as it appeared decades ago. We spent an afternoon walking up and down every deck so as not to miss any.

In the teens-only area near Club HAL for kids, you'll find a hot dog cart (which is actually a DJ booth; alas, no snacks are served) and a real vintage checkered yellow cab (go on, open the door, you can sit in it!).

Beyond the decor, Nieuw Amsterdam's layout is the same as on sister ship Eurodam and nearly identical to the line’s last Vista class of ships, just on a slightly larger scale. (Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam are considered mid-size by industry standards, but are Holland America's largest, just able to squeeze through the Panama Canal.)

So cruise travelers who've sailed on other, older ships in the fleet will feel at home onboard. Walking through the casino and past the Northern Lights disco to the Queen's Lounge, the home base for the fabulous Culinary Arts Center, we had flashbacks to a recent cruise on Zuiderdam, whose public spaces are organized in much the same way.

It's this sense of familiarity that has allowed Holland America to successfully introduce trendy new features without making this latest class of ships feel separate from the rest of the fleet. Even with additions such as private cabanas and an exotic Asian specialty restaurant, Nieuw Amsterdam remains a quite traditional cruise vessel. There's enough about the ship that still feels comfortable to lovers of classic cruising -- but it definitely has that modern vibe.

And for cruise traditionalists, we’ll point out that the original Nieuw Amsterdam, a 17,149-ton sail and steam ship, was launched in 1906; the second, launched in 1938, served in World War II carrying troops as well as passengers. The most recent iteration, Nieuw Amsterdam III, began sailing in 1983; that 33,930-ton, 1,214-passenger currently sails for U.K.-based Thomson Cruises as Thomson Spirit.

Mealtime

The Manhattan Dining Room is the ship's main dining room, located aft on Decks 2 and 3. Breakfast and lunch are served here open seating. At dinner, passengers can opt for a traditional set-time, set-tablemates scenario on one deck or open-seating dining on the other, via an initiative the line has dubbed As You Wish dining.

The line's signature steakhouse, Pinnacle Grill, features chops, seafood and Sterling Silver beef. The eatery has been heavily influenced by Northwest flavors over the years, though some newer, trendier items -- like a rich lobster macaroni and cheese -- are now on the menu on Nieuw Amsterdam (and Eurodam). There is also no shortage of interactive foodstuffs, which -- along with delicious food prepared as requested -- made the meal memorable. During our visit, we witnessed a Caesar salad prepared tableside, and both Steak Diane and Baked Alaska flambeed just inches from where we sat.

New to the eatery on Nieuw Amsterdam is a Master Chef's Table where, for $89 per person, seven courses specially paired with wines are served to up to 18 guests on Versace china. All other diners pay a $20 per person charge for dinner, or $10 for lunch; reservations are recommended.

Nieuw Amsterdam's specialty Asian restaurant is Tamarind, which debuted on Eurodam. There's a neat concept in play here as the menu is organized by the four basic elements of nature: water (hoisin-lime glazed snapper with rice), wood (wasabi tenderloin on a cedar plank), fire (red penang curry coconut chicken) and earth (vegetarian-friendly fare such as sweet and sour vegetable tempura). There's also a dim sum menu and sushi. Dinner is $15 and lunch is complimentary; reservations are recommended.

The Lido Restaurant is the ship's buffet style venue, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. On our visit, dinner fell flat on the culinary and ambience fronts (overcooked pork and not a table available with a clean tablecloth); we hope these are simply first-cruise kinks that the staff has already worked out. It's also a bit hard to navigate, as -- apart from the salad bar -- everything's laid out in two long cafeteria lines, as opposed to other new ships, where the buffet venues have changed to an action station set-up.

Instead, consider Canaletto for a casual dinner. This Italian eatery, located in a sectioned-off part of the Lido Restaurant, offers a set menu of antipasti, pastas and dessert. There's no extra cost to eat here, but the venue fills up incredibly fast so you'll want to make a reservation. At lunch, we like the poolside grill, despite the long queues, because of the variety of items offered, from standard burgers and hot dogs to some more inventive fare, such as lamb burgers, grilled vegetables in pita pockets and croque monsieur. Near the Seaview Pool, Slices serves up fresh pizzas with a variety of toppings throughout the day.

Fancy a spot of tea? Three "themed" afternoon teas take place onboard: The Traditional Dutch High Tea (desserts and cakes with tea and coffee), an Indonesian Tea Ceremony (featuring local tea varieties and sweets from the Indonesian Archipelago, from where many of the ship's employees hail), and a Cupcake Tea (a dozen different flavors are served).

Finally, room service is available 24 hours a day, including a hang-card breakfast that goes beyond continental breads and juices to include egg dishes and breakfast meats for a more substantial in-room meal.

Bedtime

Nieuw Amsterdam features the same healthy variety of accommodations found on its sibling ship, Eurodam, including new-to-the-class staterooms with panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows and cabins providing direct spa access as well as spa amenities.

Our deluxe balcony cabin was roomy enough, though the storage options had both hits and misses. The closets are roomy and plentiful, but there are no drawers. (A few have been built under the beds, which our stateroom attendant didn't point out; I found these by accident after stubbing my toe.) I also found myself looking for more places to simply put things down -- a glass of water, my camera -- besides the desk and small coffee and bedside tables. The desk, by the way, quickly becomes cluttered if you need to plug anything into the two sole outlets.

These standard balcony cabins run about 254 square feet (including the verandah). Otherwise, cabins run the gamut from 175-square-foot insiders to suites -- two penthouses (1,318 square feet with the balcony), 62 deluxe verandah suites (measuring from 510 square feet) and 50 superior verandah suites (398 square feet). All suite guests have access to the private Neptune Lounge on Deck 7, midship.

Spa cabins are spread across two decks (note: Deck 10 spa cabins only have French balconies, so there's no place to sit down outside). Extras include Bose iPod docks, yoga mats and healthier in-cabin dining menus (think granola and turkey bacon). Spa cabin occupants have access to a concierge for booking spa treatments. However, there are no spa treatments included in the fare.

All cabins feature twin beds that convert into a queen, flat-screen televisions and DVD players (DVD's are available for rent from the library for $3; suite guests get them for free). Elemis, the ship's spa brand, provides toiletries.

We love that all bathrooms in outside cabins and higher categories come with tubs. We also had to avoid sitting down on the bed during the day for fear of a nap attack. It's that comfortable.

New and Nifty

As Nieuw Amsterdam is a nearly identical sibling to Eurodam, the only real difference is the Manhattan-themed décor and the new Master Chef's Table at Pinnacle Grill (detailed above). Otherwise, the biggest changes onboard are ones that passengers may not necessarily see: The ship is the line's most green ship and has given Holland America the opportunity to test out the latest technologies. The ship features four 12-cylinder and two 8-cylinder engines designed to reduce visible smoke and emissions, and an advanced wastewater treatment system that uses what's called "bioreactor" technology to filter water and break down solids.

The ship also requires passengers to insert their key card in a slot near the door to use the in-room lighting system, as is now commonplace in many hotels throughout Europe and on newer cruise ships from lines like MSC Cruises. This cuts down on energy waste, as lights cannot be left on when a cabin is unoccupied. Added perk: It's much harder to lose your key card amid stateroom rubble -- just always volunteer yours for the light slot!

Grand Old Favorites

Features that debuted onboard Eurodam are back here, including the Retreat, an exclusive, al fresco hideaway above the Lido Pool, which features private cabanas where you can order in fresh fruit or lunch (a day pass costs $75, though there are discounts offered on port days). A few cabanas also line the Lido Pool, but as there's a lot more foot traffic there, the cost is only $50 ($30 in port).

Also back is the aforementioned Tamarind restaurant and adjacent Silk Den, a bar for pre-dinner (well, anytime) cocktails in an exotic Asian setting.

Huh?

While the New York theme works in many ways, there's one area where it simply doesn't and really should -- the city's namesake restaurant, the Manhattan Room. While some framed photos of city scenes decorate the walls, the overall decor just doesn't say New York. In fact, with red and purple fabrics and paper-lantern-like lighting fixtures, it almost feels Asian-inspired.

Kid-Friendly Factor

Nieuw Amsterdam is not necessarily a family-focused ship, and the age groupings for the kids' program are broad (3 to 7, 8 to 12, and 13 to 17). Although the line is focused on the 55-plus demographic, the ship is a great option for multigenerational groups (from grandparents to grandkids) traveling together. The youth facilities are adequate even if not over the top, with spaces such as a Club HAL playroom, an arcade and the teens-only loft.

Bottom Line

Nieuw Amsterdam is not very evolutionary, but that's almost fitting for a ship that harkens to the glory days of cruising in name and style. Despite the slightly larger passenger count, warm, friendly and attentive service remains a hallmark of the Holland America experience, and luxurious touches -- from fresh flowers to fabulous bedding -- make it special.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

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