Travel Journalist and co-creator of CruiseReport.com Chris Dikman is currently sailing on board Nieuw Amsterdam and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout the duration of his voyage.
This morning Nieuw Amsterdam is steaming towards the private island of Half Moon Cay. As the sun begins to erase the darkness I can see the weather this morning looks bleak. It’s cloudy and cool, about 55 degrees. That’s cool for the Caribbean. After enjoying my morning coffee in the Lido buffet I begin to look for a more serene spot to finish up yesterday’s blog entry. As it turns out, The Silk Den, a bar on Deck 11 amidships, is a quiet retreat well suited for this purpose.
Posting the blog each day requires the use of the ship’s Internet services. As with most ships, the Internet is provided by MTN (Maritime Telecommunications Network). Oh yes, I have cursed them many times over the years. The Internet service on Nieuw Amsterdam can be best described as “average” for the industry, not the fastest but certainly not the slowest. The Wi-Fi signal in the stateroom is hit-or-miss and weak in the Lido restaurant. The best signal I have found so far is midship on Deck 2 and, of course, in Explorations Cafe on Deck 11 (the Internet Cafe). I purchased the 250-minute package for $100 which actually ended up being 270 minutes thanks to a 20 “bonus” minute promotion the ship was offering. The net cost is 37 cents per minute. Pay as you go rates are a hefty 75 cents per minute, so if you plan on doing more than sending one email, you are better off buying the package.
Even before I am finished with posting the blog, the Captain makes an announcement over the ship’s PA that weather conditions will not allow us to safely tender into Half Moon Cay. Bummer. A cold front has brought 50mph winds and 5-foot swells. Where is global warming when you need it? The cruise staff scurries to arrange onboard activities for an unscheduled day “at sea”. By 10 a.m., we have an updated daily schedule delivered to our stateroom with activities galore. Even though I am sure the ship has contingency plans already in place for missed ports of call, it is impressive how quickly they adapt. Of course, all shore excursions for Half Moon Cay are cancelled and monies refunded. One thing of interest is a letter explaining that the port taxes of $18 per person will also be refunded. I don’t ever recall a cruise line refunding port taxes for a missed port-of-call. Good job HAL!
We decide to have lunch in the Manhattan Dining Room today. As anyone who reads our reviews or blogs knows, we are not huge fans of the buffet experience. We usually only eat in the buffet one or two times per trip just so we can write about the experience. We much prefer the “sit down” restaurant concept, or just grabbing a burger at the Terrace Grill. However, before lunch we decide to sit in on the Digital Workshop conducted by resident tech guru Chris (not me, another Chris). Digital Workshop is a computer learning center that debuted on Eurodam and has been extended to other HAL ships. The classroom has been relocated to the Kings Room on Nieuw Amsterdam and is setup much more like a classroom.
There are tables with lots of brand new Sony Vaio notebook computers for guests to learn on. This morning’s class is on creating a movie using Microsoft’s Movie Maker software on Windows 7. Even though I am a Macintosh bigot, I find it interesting to sit in on these classes and learn how the “other half” lives. Mac lovers need not fear that I have gone over to the dark side. The first thing that jumps out at you is that Chris talks about 90 miles per hour. Unfortunately, I can only listen at about 65 mph. Nevertheless, he has a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time and one way is to talk fast. The room is filled to capacity and beyond. There are people standing in the doorway and around the perimeter of the room. This is the most popular place on the ship!
Chris does an admirable job of keeping everybody on the “same page” as he leads us through a hands-on workshop to create a “movie” of photos, video clips and sound. That’s no easy task with a large group consisting of people with a variety of computer skills. At the end of the hour-long session, we feel as though we have experienced the digital equivalent of running a marathon. However, we leave with knowledge we did not have an hour earlier. Anyone attending one of Chris’ workshops will undoubtedly improve their computer skills. The classes are conducted on a range of topics from learning Windows 7 to digital photography to movie making. All workshops are complimentary.
All of this learning has helped us to work up an appetite. Fortunately, the Manhattan Dining Room is right next door to the Digital Workshop training room. We are quickly seated at a table with 6 other guests and give our lunch menus. The decor of the Manhattan is red, lots and lots of red. In fact, we have noticed a lot of red and orange used throughout the ship. There is actually a psychologically sound reason for using these colors on a cruise ship. Warm colors like red and orange help to create excitement and stimulate the senses, while cool colors like blue will tend to have a more relaxing effect. Event planners know that more people will fall asleep, or be less attentive, in a meeting held in a room with blue walls and carpeting.
The Manhattan’s decor comes close to the festive decor you might see in a dining room on a Carnival ship. However, the lack of bold brass or chrome and the elegant seating retains a more sophisticated feel. The lunch menu is short, but offers a good selection of appetizers, soups, main courses and desserts. The spinach artichoke dip served in warm ramekins was delicious and was immediate followed by a bowl of Chicken Noodle soup, also very good. Perfect seasoning made reaching for the salt shaker unnecessary. Rickee’s main course was a large macaroni and cheese while I had the BBQ ribs. Rickee’s dessert, Cappuchino Bombe was a dip of coffee ice cream with a semi-sweet chocolate shell. Service in The Manhattan was crisp and friendly, as we have come to expect from Holland America.
After lunch, we spent much of the afternoon relaxing and reading. It was a little too cool and windy to enjoy the balcony today. Hopefully, we will have better weather tomorrow in Grand Turk.
This evening is formal night, so after getting all dressed up, we head down to the Explorer’s Bar on Deck 2 to listen to the Adagio Strings before going to the 8 pm production show in the Theatre. The Adagio Strings is a quartet of classical musicians that entertain each evening in the Explorer’s Bar. We enjoyed them aboard Eurodam, even though I believe it was a different group of ladies. The quartet consists of a Cellist a Violist and two Violinists, all female. I honestly think I could sit and listen to them play all evening. One interesting observation. As guests with children would walk by the Explorer’s the little kids were mesmerized by the classical music, almost frozen in their tracks, staring at the musicians. My guess is that these kids have never seen real musicians let alone heard real music. They probably think music only comes from an iPod. It was really something to see.
At 7:45 we make our way to the front of the ship where we find our seats in the Theatre. The show starts at 8pm and the theatre fills up fast, so it is a good idea to get there early to get a good seat. Like other Holland America ships, the theatre does have its blind spots. The best seats are in the first 10 rows, otherwise you run the risk of having a support beam blocking your sight lines to the stage. The stage on Nieuw Amsterdam is quite sophisticated with turntables, pedestals that can be elevated and lowered electronically, and backdrops that drop from the ceiling. The entertainers consist of 5 dancers and 6 singers (4 male and 2 female).
Tonight’s show is NYC and features musical numbers about New York City. The dance numbers were energetic and the song selection is good. However, the engineering could use some work. The stage lighting was way off on a couple of the dance numbers, with dancers virtually performing in the dark. On a couple of numbers, the singers and dancers appeared as little more than silhouettes against a brightly lit screen. The sound mixing was also off on several numbers with the male vocals overpowering the girl singers. As is typical on Holland America, the show uses pre-recorded music tracks instead of a live orchestra. This results is a somewhat “flat” sound experienced. Even a small group of musicians backing up the recorded tracks would be a huge improvement. On the upside, the entertainment has consistently improved on Holland America over the years and tonight’s show is lightyears ahead of what we experienced on our first HAL cruise back in 2003. We are looking forward to the next production show to see if any of the sound and lighting issues are addressed.
After the show, we walked back to the Explorer’s Lounge to enjoy more of the Adagio Strings. We spent the rest of the evening front and center, just relaxing and enjoying the combined talent of this group of ladies.
Tomorrow, the ship will dock in Grand Turk. This will be our first visit to this island.