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 Caribbean Winter Getaway with Holland America Line

Maasdam Holland America Line
Tropical Getaway on Nieuw Amsterdam

by Rusty Krause

All the comforts and luxury of an ocean cruise have come together on Holland America Line. In 2010, ms Nieuw Amsterdam joined its sister-ship ms Eurodam to further expand its premium five-star service. The company's "Signature of Excellence" initiative creates unparalleled enhancements, as well as providing guests with a world-class hotel at sea.

My husband Larry and I are veteran cruisers, and an eight-day Caribbean winter getaway aboard the magnificent 86,000-ton Nieuw Amsterdam was the perfect beginning to a new year. Cruising round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we discovered white sandy beaches in Turk & Caicos, a century old fortress in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, duty-free shops in St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands, and the private island of Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

Even though we were on a ship with over 2,000 passengers, the crew treated us as if we were the only ones on board. Similar concerns for the comfort of the guests were evident in the staterooms. The Nieuw Amsterdam makes living at sea a priority by adding Eurotop mattresses and hypoallergenic pillows.

Nieuw Amsterdam's commitment to excellence emerged in unexpected places. This spacious mid-size ship features a renowned $3-million art collection, an expanded Greenhouse Spa with thermal suites and a hydro-pool, four alternate specialty restaurants and a Culinary Art Center show kitchen.

World Class Dining

A great dining experience is like a voyage to a marvelous, new destination, always with   something unusual to anticipate. With four diverse specialty restaurants to choose from, every night was a special event. We found these four specialty restaurants worth the additional fee, and reservations were a must!

The Pinnacle Grill sets the standards for exceptional fine dining. Each table was perfectly arranged with Bulgaria china, Riedel stemware and Frette linens. Equally impressive were the stellar wine list and the premium Northwest beef from the Double R Ranch. Our Filet Mignon and bone-in Rib Eye steaks were cooked to perfection and served with a selection of delicious sides to share. Our attentive server, Made, was always available for our rave reviews and took pride when we complimented him on his excellent service. (Lunch $10 p.p./Dinner $29 p.p.)

One evening a week, the Pinnacle Grill transforms to recreate Le Cirque, the acclaimed New York City restaurant. Through a collaboration between Master Chef Rudi Sodamin and Executive Chef Craig Hopson, the menu choices and wine selections, as well as  Le Cirque's whimsical monkey-designed charger-plate, are tailored to form this authentic dining experience. We started with signature lobster salad and squash soup. With applause to the chef, we moved on to the Châteaubriand, sliced and served table side. We made a point to leave room for the chocolate soufflé—which also merits top billing! (Dinner $49 p.p.)

With a harmonious balance of soft lighting and bamboo accents, Tamarind offers a menu as fresh with personality as its Asian cuisine. The dinner selections are divided into five elements of energy— Water (seafood), Fire (spices), Wood (beef), Earth (vegetarian) and Metal (cooking tools). In addition, there is a variety of sushi and sashimi choices. The chef takes liberties with his artful presentation of Pompano baked in rice paper, wasabi-crusted beef tenderloin and sesame udon noodles.  (Dim Sum Lunch, no surcharge /Dinner $20 p.p.)

Aptly named for its colorful approach to food, Canaletto is named after the famous 18th-century Venetian artist. Our well-informed waiter introduced us to a three-course menu designed around "spartire," the Italian word for sharing. We opted for two small plates (eggplant and clams), one pasta (ricotta ravioli) and one large plate (veal piccata) to share. For a sweet ending, we each had our very own tiramisu. (Dinner $10 p.p.)

We found that the same level of excellence in the specialty restaurants prevails in the Manhattan Dining Room. An elegant spiral staircase separates this two-tiered main dining venue, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We appreciated the flexibility of an open-seating policy, which allowed us to enjoy an intimate dinner for two or dine with fellow cruisers. The chef offers a five-course menu each night, brimming with favorites like prime rib of beef, roast chicken and grilled salmon, as well as vegetarian dishes.

The Lido restaurant offers a more casual atmosphere for buffet-style breakfast and lunch that features separate stations for made-to-order eggs and omelets, crepes and waffles, sandwiches, salads, and carved turkey, as well as Asian and  Mexican fare. Most impressive is the fact that once we made our selection, a server placed the food on the plate, while the waitstaff was always available to assist us to our table. In the evening, we ordered from a menu featuring a nice selection of soups, salads, pastas, hot entrees and regional dishes.

For those aspiring to be gourmet chefs at home, Nieuw Amsterdam's Culinary Arts Center offers a show kitchen in which top chefs and sommeliers from Food & Wine magazine share their tricks of the trade.

Dazzling Entertainment

Cruise Director Jeremy Hales kept us entertained with an endless array of daytime activities and evening performances. In the Showroom at Sea, Nieuw Amsterdam's talented singers and dancers take the audience on a whirlwind musical journey
through New York City.  On another night, Recycled Percussion presented their unique high-energy show that has earned them standing ovations.

The two-tiered Showroom at Sea was packed every night, but the biggest crowd-pleaser was the one-of-a-kind Indonesian/Filipino Crew show. The Nieuw Amsterdam waiters, busboys and cabin stewards shared their culture through the dances and music of their homeland.

Wonderful nightly entertainment also included a singalong with Piano Man Jimmy and a riveting performance in B. B. King's Blues Club, featuring the music that made Memphis famous. These exceptional musical offerings were only a few of the entertainment options aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam. The Crow's Nest panoramic lounge transforms into a dance club at night, while Club 21 casino offers a wide range of games, slots and the biggest mega-cash, progressive jackpot at sea.

During the days at sea, we met several passengers rehearsing for "Dancing With The Stars." Pursuing the tradition of the popular television show, guests can take complimentary dancing lessons and compete for a chance to earn a trophy at the end of the cruise.

Shore Thing

The shore excursion staff continued to take care of us, even when we left the ship. The cruise line connects with the best tour guides in each port to make sure guests find the same quality on land as they do at sea.

At our first port, Grand Turk appeared to be an ideal location to spend a day at the beach. For the more adventurous, the shore excursion staff was eager to arrange snorkel and scuba diving tours as Turks & Caicos boasts the third-largest barrier reef in the world.

Since we've been to Puerto Rico many times, we joined the San Juan Food Tour that offered us an opportunity to taste native cuisine and learn more about the culture of the island. The excursion desk offers a multitude of excursions, from a guided walking tour in Old San Juan and El Morro fortress to a scenic bus tour heading toward El Yunque Rainforest.

In St. Thomas, we opted to take the Turtle Encounter, as the tour price also included  admission to the Coral World Marine Park. For first-timers, we suggest taking a scenic island bus tour which leaves time for shopping or the beach.

Our last port, Half Moon Cay, is a secluded tropical island in the Bahamas. At this gala beach party, guests can participate in an array of water sports, ride a horse into the surf or visit Half Moon Lagoon, the island's aqua park. In addition, the staff offers guests the opportunity to book a deluxe two-story Beach Villa day package.

As our voyage came to an end, we were already planning out next Caribbean cruise. On Holland's Signature of Excellence ships, it's not just about the islands; it's really all about the ship filled with so many onboard pleasures.

For more information, contact Holland America Line at 1-877-SAIL-HAL, (1-877-724-5425)  or visit

Photos courtesy of Michel Verdure/ Holland America Line  

About Rusty Krause

Rusty Krause was the former publisher and editor of Travel Today magazine. For 20 years, Rusty found great pleasure sharing her worldwide experiences with a well-traveled audience of readers. In addition, Rusty introduced Travel Today Canada as a quarterly supplement magazine inserted within California, Chicago, and New York newspapers. In recent years, Rusty has limited her travels to world cruising – from Asia, Australia and Europe to South America and the Caribbean. Whether experiencing the cosmopolitan flare of a destination or the unparalleled amenities aboard a luxury cruise, travel continues to be high on Rusty’s priority list.

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