Greetings! We just got home from our Thanksgiving week voyage on the Nieuw Statendam, and wanted to do a little write up on our experiences. This was our first HAL cruise, and our second cruise ever (first was earlier this spring on the Celebrity Equinox), so we are still relatively new to cruising as a whole.
Before I start, a quick preface to my upcoming wall of text. We tried very hard to not directly compare this experience with our first experience on Equinox, because different ships, different lines, different expectations. That said, sometimes it proved difficult to not say, "well, this thing was much better on this ship". I just want to make it clear that despite any negative aspect I may talk about, we still had an incredible experience and we would still sail on HAL again. As someone else has said, one has to try VERY hard to not have a good time on a cruise.
We had an inside cabin near the aft elevator banks on deck 6. Aft elevators are very convenient for access to the Dining room, the Lido buffet, and the aft pool area, as well as the Sun deck for great views. We felt very little in the way of vibration or noise, and although we encountered some choppy waters occasionally, not really much movement. What little there was just made for a good night's sleep. Our room stewards were almost always visible and their work was excellent. I had only one complaint about our room location, but I'll detail that in this next section.
Nieuw Statendam was utterly gorgeous with very classic lines. The ship is filled with museum quality artwork almost everywhere. Almost all of the artwork on-board is themed to tie into music and performance. I loved the amount of open deck space, as we frequently like walk around the ship, especially in the evening. For the most part I think they layout of the public rooms were well designed and flowed naturally. My one single gripe about the design, tied into our room location, was the frequent necessity to have to travel either through cabin corridors or to traverse multiple elevator banks/stairwells to access other public spaces or open decks. To go from our room to the the crow's nest or sky deck we either had to go down to deck 2 or 3, then walk all the way forward, then take another elevator up, OR go up to deck 11, walk past the sports court area, then enter more cabin corridors to access the forward elevator bank. I didn't like having to enter cabin corridors from public areas just to access public areas.
Also, while beautiful and well designed, the Lido pool area was almost always oppressively hot and humid with little breeze despite a partially open roof. Some of the public rooms also seemed to struggle with adequate cooling.
This was the absolute highlight for us, and was completely unexpected. We knew going in about the music walk, and was anticipating enjoying the offering, but we were not prepared for how it turned into a must-attend affair each evening. On any given evening, we went from enjoying a classical string quintet playing various selections, then traipsing over the the rock room to enjoy some really good classic rock tunes, then moving over to Billboard for the dual pianos (and the two artists here, Colin and Rachel, were AMAZING), and then finishing up with some blues and jazz at BB Kings. At one point I think I muttered that this was like being at a floating music festival. Elsewhere, in the theatre, we got a high-tech experience with several offerings that delighted us. The use of the 270 degrees of screen was well utilized with the BBC oceans presentation, as well as the dance troupe that used the screens and projectors as an interactive aspect. We also attended a few of the new EXC presentations and these also used the screens and projectors and were both informative and entertaining.
Before I go on, I want to inject a quick note here. I've heard and read some complaints about the lack of production shows on HAL. I get it, big shows are what some people prefer. But I think this is good for both HAL and the cruise industry in general. HAL is doing something different and innovative by offering something others don't. And if/when we cruise with HAL again, this is going to be a huge part of why.
Our single biggest disappointment. Not because of quality; everything was cooked and presented perfectly. It was the taste. Almost everything in the Dining room and Lido was bland. We are not people who frequently add salt to food, but we found ourselves adding salt and pepper to our dishes, more often than not. Deserts tended to be boring and slightly tasteless, and simple-to-make foods like eggs tended to be watery and rubbery. The exceptions were specialty dining; we ate at Tamarind, Nami Sushi, and Canaletto (couldn't get Pinnacle sadly) and all were on par for what we expected the food to taste like. Also the Deli and Dive-in were excellent.
For the most part, service met or exceeded our expectation, with a handful of exceptions. Service was a mess in the dining room (and lido) for the first 3 days, and it was bad enough that a table next to us actually got up and left with frustration. We had breakfast on day 2 in the dining room, and people were waiting upwards of 20 minutes for their drink orders, or in one case, a person getting their food served, but not their dining partner. Then, magically, it was if a switch was flipped on Wednesday and everything was suddenly working, at least in the Dining Room (Lido was still hit or miss with drink service). We actually ended up speaking with a senior staff member about this on the last day of the cruise, and before we could tell them we noted the service level seemed to have reversed itself midway, they asked, "Did it seem to improve by day 3 or 4?". Turns out there was 3 major events that hit them simultaneously: the transition from European to American cruising (they had just completed their transatlantic crossing), Thanksgiving week, and most notably, quite a few new contracts had just started this week. It was just an unfortunate storm of timing, and as I noted above, almost everything was moving at or above expectations by mid-week (except Lido - man, at times that was an exercise in frustration).
We aren't beach people, we're more into exploration and adventure into local culture and history. We didn't book any excursions for this as we were just looking for some relaxation and doing things on our own. That said, Half Moon Cay was a pleasant surprise. Clean, gorgeous, and well maintained, we had much more fun than I thought we would. The cookout was also very good. The other ports were Grand Turk, Amber Cove, and Key West. Grand Turk was...not a lot. There was some history to delve into, but the island is so depressed and poorly maintained. I understand there are some wonderful beach-y and water-y type things to do, but...yeah. Amber Cove was fantastic, and the area made for some fantastic panoramic pictures. Key West is Key West.
We had high, but guarded, expectations. We came off an almost magical first experience with Celebrity Equinox, and we didn't want to try to project similar expectations onto this cruise. First cruise, that new car smell, etc, we understood nothing will probably beat that first impression and tried to not let us influence this experience. And I think we succeeded, for the most part. We ended up being pleasantly surprised by a few things, thoroughly enjoyed the ship, the staff, and the entertainment. Service was a disappointment at first, but that improved, and now having the knowledge of the why behind the first few days, we're at peace with that. I can only hope the food issues (blandness) was just an isolated incident and not indicative of food typically served on HAL. We look forward to sailing on Nieuw Statendam and with HAL again.