by Geoff Edwards
My wife, Michael, and I are starting a trip from Fort Lauderdale into the Eastern Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam.
This is the newest of Holland America’s ships. We’ll join 2,106 other passengers.
We live in Los Angeles; the ship sails from Fort Lauderdale. For some reason, ubiquitous connections don’t exist.
Miami, no problem, but Fort Lauderdale? You’re sure you want to go there?? Actually, Virgin America makes it easy, but still to be sure to make the ship’s sailing, better plan for an overnight hotel stay.
Our Virgin America crew was friendly, although they only came down the aisle once with complimentary soft drinks, plus booze to buy. Not that we had any spare change. $25 per bag, $8.00 to watch a movie. Food to order prices are displayed on the TV. Just press “eat.” No button on the screen says “Can I just have a peanut?”
“Never mind,” as my Grandmother used to say.
On the plus side, the seat back screen received Dish Network and the moving flight map.
Make no mistake, there is a lot new on the Nieuw Amsterdam, but the cool thing about Holland America Line is, no matter how new things are, the ship always feels familiar. The bar you liked previously is still there in the same place. The lounge where they serve the goodies at night is a bit bigger, but still looks the same, and it’s right where you left it.
The flowers; at $10,000 weekly are gorgeous and sprinkled copiously around the ship.
And never mind the Art Auction, just let me take home what’s on the walls.
One noticeable change, prompted I’m sure by the tragic Concordia crash, is the addition to the Lifeboat drill.
“You are required to attend this drill. If you do not, you will not be allowed to sail with us.”
That means if your name doesn’t show up at roll call, believe me, they will seek you out. Don’t think this is an empty threat. Across the pier a passenger on the Westerdam who did not attend their drill was bid goodbye and left on the dock.
I think my idea is simpler. Each attendant at the drill gets a red ticket. No tickee, no eatee.
By the way, there are no muster stations on Nieuw Amsterdam; it’s direct to the lifeboats.
I always look up at the bottom of the boat we at our station are standing under. Then I look around at the group assigned to that boat.
Hard to believe we’ll all fit.
Our first meal on board was in the Manhattan Dining Room. This is a bit more colorful than previous HAL experience, but the red is cheerful.
The only downside, the color screens around the dining area.
They reminded me of a look inside something I don’t want to talk about.
Accompanying an awesome menu is a wait-staff offering attentive and friendly service. I had Cobia with lobster dumplings.
It was perfectly cooked; seared and crispy on the outside, soft and a touch mushy inside. It may have been the best fish I’ve had in a cruise ship dining room.
Nieuw Amsterdam is chef-oriented, and their chefs value their reputations. Not to worry.
Nieuw Amsterdam First Day At Sea
We slept past sunrise,
(way past) so ordered our breakfast from room service. There was hardly a wait until the knock on the door.
Croissants, coffee, and bran muffins on the sun-swept balcony with HAL’s private Bahamian island in view made for a lingering morning.
We finally emerged and grabbed lunch at the Terrace Grill.
One of us (guess who) had a lamb burger. New one-person poll shows lamb beats cow. Along with traditional treats, the grill also served salmon burgers.
It is interesting that on this big a ship, small improvements pop up.
Checkout the tear off daily schedule with 50 things to do,
and not cups, but coffee mugs.
On deck, the music was harmonious not raucous. I loved the stealthy sounds that came from the Kettle Drum.
The pool area is also set up for those under 50 to enjoy.
Dinner was in Italian themed Canaletto. It was a bit tricky finding Canaletto. Basically it’s part of the Lido. It is separated by an adjacent space, but has no entry door. The food was definitely worth the search. I had an incredible Penne Alla Vodka.
You must try this.
Suddenly, as we were getting ready to order dessert, a large green wisp appeared. Lemoncello cotton candy!
Do not miss Canaletto.
Nieuw Amsterdam A Day At Sea
Most of the day we sailed along the south side of Cuba.
“The Culinary Arts Center program, presented by Food & Wine magazine, is a groundbreaking program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine with an unique and entertaining experience.”
Michael checked out “Three Chefs Demo” and also attended Caribbean Heat.
The Culinary Arts Center Program takes place in a large (200-plus seating) room with a stage, state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, plus multiple large screens providing close-ups of the food preparation.
The classes I attended were only a sampling as there were sometimes three a day hosted by the chefs of the different dining rooms and Laurie, The Party Planner. Provided free of charge they lasted approximately one hour each.
Recipe cards were passed out, and at times samples were available for tasting.
Fortunately, the recipes were in cups and ounces vs. grams and pints, except the hugely popular traditional Dutch “Bread Pudding” dessert recipe. But immediately upon arriving home, trusty “Google” at hand, I was able to translate and cook this dish with my granddaughters. I told their mother, with 19 egg yolks, it was healthy. The kids each had three helpings; their dad, two. I, on the other hand, had it every day for lunch aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.
On the second day of the cruise, more than 100 guests and I sat comfortably, while at least four large screens around the room showed close ups of the three chefs — Danny, Jason and Kim — as they prepared their signature dishes from their restaurants: Canaletto, Tamarind and the Pinnacle Grill.
Laurie, the party planner, acted as moderator while the chefs bantered entertainingly with each other. They must have been as much chosen for their personalities as their cooking skills!
The recipes revolved around three main courses: Veal Milanese from Canaletto; Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken from Tamarind; and Filet Mignon and Shrimp, or famously “Land and Sea” from the Pinnacle Grill.
While 23 different ingredients already measured and chopped for the Curry and Veal dishes make the cooking look easy, someone has got to measure and chop behind the scenes.
That afternoon, I went back for more and watched as Kim, from the Pinnacle Grill, amazed us with Cubano Grilled Pork with Picadillo Olive Salsa.
It seems there is a magic number of more than 23 ingredients or more that goes into making each demonstration entertaining, beautiful, delicious and challenging.
“Best Ever Fish Tacos” cooking class:
Again, at least 25 ingredients necessary, but a smaller audience this time enabling us, with Laurie, the Party Planner, to gather around the cooking surface/work table, and ask questions during the process.
It is fun to see the demonstration unfold as if you are all in your own kitchen. Nothing is written in stone, and if there isn’t an ingredient available, it is either improvised or a substitution is supplied, and great tips learned!
I took a picture of the huge, five-pound, bag of Crushed Chili Pepper flakes for Geoff to drool over; he likes it hotter than hot!
Only 2 teaspoons are required for the recipe, however! The ship has a lot of mouths to feed!
Caribbean Heat, “Sofrito Mashed Potatoes” cooking class:
The least amount of ingredients, only 15, but then it is mashed potatoes. Since it includes vegetables of red and green bell peppers, sautéed with tomato sauce and cream, technically you don’t need another dish. Only two pans to clean, and looked delicious. I actually would try this at home!
Later, as the sun set, and the skies grayed,
Cuba receded, and we dressed for dinner.
Tonight’s dinner for us was in the Pinnacle Grill, a very upper end restaurant.
The lobster bisque had a slightly unfamiliar taste. It was laced gently with aged cognac.
No wonder it’s smiling.
Crab cakes were wonderful, but I’d hesitate to recommend the Chef’s favorite; lobster mac and cheese.
Each night when we get back to the cabin there is a towel animal displayed. They don’t have the ingenuity of the Carnival creatures; actually they are a bit lame.
But I loved this one.
I named him Ralph.
Georgetown Cayman Islands
This is a familiar stop for us. The US dollar in the Cayman Islands is worth 80 cents. Bargains are scarce. That being said, Nieuw Amsterdam offers tons of shore excursions.
We actually slept through the morning. Nothing lost. We read, wrote, emailed, etc. A hint; wireless on all ships is slower than on shore, but leave your cabin door ajar and the speed nearly doubles.
The Pinnacle grill opened its doors to us once again; tonight was the Special Chef’s Dinner. Our seven course meal started with champagne dusted with a touch of Grand Marnier. This apparently smooths the inside of the glass. Something good then happens. I have no idea what, but no guessing that it was effervescent. A nice way to start the evening. And it didn’t count as a course. Those were next.
This is a dinner will take about three hours. When the Chef’s dinner concept began it was 11 courses. As the chefs began to have trouble fitting through the kitchen doors, it dropped to eight. The difficulty in getting Jenny Craig at sea dropped it to seven.
And then it started:
Check out the plates … $250 each.
Lord knows what the napkin rings go for. I’m surprised the maître de doesn’t pat your pockets on the way out.
Here’s the menu, kind of:
Each course had its own assigned wine.
When we waddled back to our cabin, we both avoided the mirrors.
Nieuw Mahogany Bay
Until Carnival and Jerry Hynds came along to develop it, Mahogany Bay was but a house or two on a bay. Two years and $62,000,000 later it is a cluster of shops, restaurants,
and just a chair lift away,
$12.00 will get you back and forth as many times as you want.
Keeping an eye on all was a German cruise ship.
The stores are lovely, but prices are fixed. A pair of rubber flip flops ran more than $50. Michael, shopping for bracelet charms, found the ones on board Nieuw Amsterdam less expensive and much the same or better quality.
What, the Pinnacle Grill again? Yup, but tonight it was New York, New York. The menu was that of one of New York’s most famous restaurants, Le Cirque. Believe me at $25, it’s cheaper than the Big Apple. It was incredible and you don’t have to take a taxi to get there.
Nieuw Costa Maya, Mexico
Costa Maya is on the Yucatan Península. What does Yucatan mean in Spanish? Well, nothing. When the Spanish conquistadors asked, “What is the name of this place?” they of course spoke in Spanish. (Duh, which also means nothing.) The Mayans answered “uhuuthaan.” Which translated means “Listen to the strange way they are speaking.”
A bit ago I was on a ship heading for Costa Maya, Mexico. The windy weather forced an itinerary change. Even this trip the wind delayed our departure.
Oh, and it poured rain. We’ll try again another time. Never mind.
Dinner at Tamarind was a combination of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. I started with a Sushi Rainbow roll
followed by a SPICY chicken curry dish. The cost to dine in Tamarind is $15.
Save room for dessert. In fact save a whole house. The Chocolate Extravaganza took up the whole pool area.
Micheal’s favorite apples on a stick.
Nieuw Last Day at Sea
The Costa Maya weather is still with us as we sail back to Fort Lauderdale. The ship’s store is having sales, and the cruise director is holding his debarkation talk. He is particularly concerned that passengers leave clothes out to wear in the morning. You can’t believe, he says, how many show up at the main desk in their pajamas. Then the request to look to the right and look to the left. Now think about the fact that one in three doesn’t wear pajamas.
Once again I hit the Lido for breakfast. I am sure I will never see such an array of Eggs Benedict anywhere else.
This cruise was mesmerizing. The only way I could keep track of the days was to press the elevator button.