We have just about covered everything I wanted to from our 10 night cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam to the Southern Caribbean, so this will be my last post on this trip. Just want to sum it up and give you some final thoughts on the best and the worst parts of the cruise.
Before I get deeper into the overall review it is VERY important to note that this cruise was deeply affected by COVID. In all I think it came down to two things, one good and one bad, that affected us and everyone else on the ship.
First, COVID gave us the dreaded masks. We had never sailed fully masked before. Even though we took a cruise in July 2021, it was on a very small ship (Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos) where everyone on board was fully vaccinated and we would be getting off on only one inhabited island (where we did wear masks). So for that cruise, no one masked up onboard except the crew. I should also say it was pre-Omicron. Wearing a mask everywhere on the ship meant that we probably spent more time in our stateroom than we have ever done before simply because we could be there without our masks on.
The good part of COVID was that there were less than 925 guest on board a ship that has a full capacity of more than 3,500 passengers. That meant no waiting anywhere, from embarkation to shore excursions. You could find a seat in any show. And with almost 900 crew members on board (a full complement), service was amazing.
So many things to name. We pretty much loved it all but these are some of the stand outs. I lifted some of these directly from the evaluation I sent to Holland America (HAL).
- Pre-cruise: HAL was VERY specific about exactly what we needed to do to board the ship whether it was about check in times (they mean it), COVID protocols (they mean those too) and COVID testing.
- Embarkation: Being in a Neptune Suite we were given “Priority Check-in” which means that we got to arrive at noon, the earliest check in. In our case I dropped off the rest of our foursome (my bride and my brother and his bride) and I took the car back to the airport rental car center. Then I grabbed a taxi back to the port (total time from drop-off to return was less than 20 minutes) and we walked in the door. From there we saw a very nice lady to show her our vax card, negative COVID test and signed our health questionnaire. We were then given a tiny receipt and had to show that to get on the ship. Start to finish 20 minutes. Our room keys were on our door.
- Stateroom availability: Our suite was available as soon as we were on board. So we dropped and unpacked our carry-ons and headed to lunch at the Dive-In. No lines anyplace and lots of service. I think we were asked by at least four servers what we wanted to drink. While we were at lunch I went down to the stateroom to grab something and found…our luggage, already in our stateroom on the bed. Amazing.
- Stateroom: You can read all about it by clicking here. And since I did that page with photos, I processed a video tour you can see by clicking here.
- Muster Drill: YEAH! This is all virtual now. Well almost. As soon as you turn on the TV in your stateroom, the muster talk comes on. You watch it and then sometime after 1:30 you head to your lifeboat station (ours was the Main Dining Room) and check-in and get your key card scanned. That’s it! This is another benefit of COVID. Hopefully masks will go away soon and the NEW muster drill will stay. Actually I kind of like being served at the buffet too.
- Food: I did an entire post on food. You can see it by clicking here. A quick summary is this: It was AWESOME! DELICIOUS! FANTASTIC!
- Ports: We missed one (Half Moon Cay, HAL’s private island) due to weather. The sea and wind were too rough to tender in–this turned into a sea day. Then we visited Grand Turk, Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba. Loved Grand Turk and Bonaire. Thought Puerta Plata and Curacao were “fine” and sad that Aruba has turned into just another commercialized cruise port. Links are to my posts about each of these ports.
- Shore excursions: We did Holland America Shore excursions in all ports except Aruba (Kathleen stayed on the ship, I walked around for a short time) where my brother and his bride did one. All the excursions we went on were all “fine.” In the case of two of the shore excursions, when they were a late or had to deviate from what we had been told they would be, they refunded our money even though we had still been able to go. Classy.We got two of them for free with the Have It All program.
- Entertainment: In the evenings you could usually find us at BB Kings Blues Club or one of the other venues on the Music Walk. Sometimes we would go for the music and sometime for the comedians. There were three on board whose names I cannot remember but I do know they were HILARIOUS! We did not go to any of the “big shows.” One of the reasons was because they were so few people on board there was only one show a night and they alway seem to coincide with dinner (7:30 most nights). Also we aren’t much into these shows as we have seen so many of them so many times. We do want to add that the one show that is not to be missed in the big theater is the BBC Planet Earth presentation with live music by the Lincoln Center quartet. The video parts of the presentation are on the big circular screen and just amazing.
- Sail With Seth: As you may remember, we were “Sailing with Seth” who is Holland America’s Brand Ambassador and an old friend. Here’s what we told HAL on the evaluation we sent:”We were part of the Sail With Seth group. I can’t tell you how incredibly awesome your Brand Ambassador Seth Wayne is. He has kept cruising alive for these last two horrible years. We felt like we were taking a virtual cruise each and every time he posted or was live on Facebook or Instagram. What an amazing person to have as the spokesperson for your company. On this cruise he was the epitome of what a host should be taking great care of us and just being Seth. He is the ONLY reason we decided to take this cruise. We are long-time Celebrity cruisers and had planned to restart after the pandemic with another Celebrity cruise, but Seth has kept us going for two years so when we heard he was taking a group on Nieuw Statendam, we jumped on it. When we sail with HAL again, we will always try to be part of a Sail with Seth group. You are so lucky to have him.” If you ever get a chance to Sail With Seth, do it!
- Disembarkation: Was about as smooth as it gets. It was a little late while the ship was cleared by the port. But once we were cleared, I was able to walk off with my carry-ons, take a taxi to the airport, pick up a rental car and get back to pick up Kathleen, Steve and Jamie. We always end up having to get a car when returning to Fort Lauderdale because the nonstop Alaska Air flight we take home doesn’t leave until 6:05 pm. It works well for us because two of our favorite people live about an hour north of FLL so we drive up and see them, have lunch and head back. Great way to spend the day.
This one is easy. Of all the things we had going on during this cruise, just about all of it was perfect. About as good as a cruise in the Caribbean can be. But one part of the trip just sucked—the internet. We got HAL’s middle cost Internet/WiFi package as part of the Have It All program. Their basic program is pretty much e-mail and texting. Their middle program is those two things and some additional websites like FaceBook, Instagram and Cruise Critic. I was able to do this blog as well. The speed on this plan was INCREDIBLY SLOW! And of course every time I signed on I would get an advert from HAL to “Move Up” to their top tier of internet. Finally I got totally fed up with the speed so I sucked it up and bought the top plan. Then came the shock.
Nothing got faster. If anything it got slower. And this was with the ship at one third capacity. I can imagine how slow it would have been with a full ship. So after trying for a couple of days and not seeing a single improvement from the $10 per day I had upgraded to, I went to ask the Neptune Suite concierge who I could talk to about it. She said for the suites, she was the person to talk to.
I explained my problem and she said that the top tier internet is NOT faster, it just gives you access to other websites. I am not sure what sites you would get besides what you already had but I know what you can’t do with the speed you have. You can’t watch any kind of video. I did find that I could download a video to watch later. I like to watch videos on my iPad when I ride a stationary bike in the gym so I wanted to download a couple of more episodes of a show I was rewatching. It took 3.5 hours to download a single 43 minute episode. And that didn’t count the number of times it just stopped and I had to start all over again. I finally got the episode to download by doing it overnight when no one else was using the internet. I was also told by the concierge that I could use Skype or FaceTime but with that speed, there is no way. BTW: I wanted to check the speed of my connection with a speed test but she told me that those sites were blocked 🙄.
If you have ever been on a Royal Caribbean ship you know what really fast internet at sea is all about. Their Voom product is as fast as I have here at home if you buy the streaming package. On RCL we were able to watch Netflix, FaceTime with the grandkids and I could upload this blog in seconds instead of the 30 minutes it took to upload my photos.
The bottom line is this: I would NEVER pay for internet on this ship. I don’t remember it being this bad when we were on Westerdam a few years ago so maybe this as an aberration. We can hope so. It was the only thing that drove us nuts during the entire 10 days. I know, first world problems 😜.
The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic. —Oscar Wilde