Here’s our review of our 17th March Eastern Caribbean sailing aboard Nieuw Statendam.
This was our first time on HAL. Having booked through a UK travel agent, we flew directly to Fort Lauderdale from London (very convenient, though Norwegian does not the most comfortable long haul product!). We arrived the night before embarkation, and stayed in the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. This is a great location for the airport and port, but it is sadly a rather dated Hilton property. We were quite lucky with the beautiful room we were assigned, but the public areas seemed as though they needed some attention. As this hotel is so close to the port, on a busy embarkation day it is absolute mayhem - suitcases everywhere with people arriving and departing. As a result we chose to eat breakfast out, and checkout as late as possible.
Via our travel agent we had received an embarkation time of 2pm. Due to the situation at the hotel, we made the decision to go directly to the terminal at 11:30 (it seems like the entire ship had also done the same). They were already on embarkation group 25+, and actually stopped using numbered groups when we got to check in. From arrival at the terminal to embarking the ship was under 30 mins.
As has been well documented, the ship itself is beautiful and has that wonderful new smell (sadly mixed with cigarette smoke if you go anywhere in the vicinity of the casino).
We had a VD grade balcony cabin which was beautiful - though perhaps a little smaller than the similar grade cabin I had on Queen Victoria last year. The bathroom is wonderful though - definitely the nicest I’ve had on a ship. The balcony has ample space, and the ottomans make it perfect to sit and relax.
Our first night we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, which I had pre-booked as a celebratory meal beforehand online. Incidentally, we overhead other passengers being told on the first night that the Pinnacle was fully booked for dinner for the entire cruise. Our meal was outstanding - the service was so so personal and caring it really made it for us. The portions were huge, and we were unable to finish most of our food (the king crab legs were particularly large!)
The live music on the ship is outstanding - in particular, we really enjoyed Billboard Onboard, which we tried to catch most evenings. It was nice to see that there were certain ‘regulars’ who also enjoyed particular music venues.
Coming from the British market where kettles in the cabin are commonplace, I did find it a little annoying that you had to order from room service or go to the lido if you wanted a tea or coffee. Room service were always very helpful and friendly but often took about one hour to arrive.
We did not purchase a beverage package, and found this to suit our needs well as although we might have a couple of drinks a day, this did not warrant the high cost. In our opinion, spirits and cocktails were reasonably priced (certainly cheaper than here in London, and cheaper than other lines I have sailed on). However, any kind of wine just seems to be disproportionately expensive in comparison to spirits. We took the sommelier’s advice a couple of times at dinner, and greatly enjoyed his suggestions but in reality felt cocktails or other drinks to be far better value for money. Additionally, we actually found the coffee available in the lido surprisingly nice - there’s a good selection of dairy alternatives too if you need.
We enjoyed the lido for breakfast most days, though as with most ships it does get rather crowded. everything is super fresh, and we were really pleased by the policy of the crew serving you your food. This makes a good difference in hygiene. Dinner always looked very nice at the lido, though we didn’t try it ourselves. There are just two brief things to mention here:
1) the hours of the lido are a bit strange and truncated. Whereas on other ships it might be open consistently throughout the day, we found that there was a mid-late afternoon period and a post 8pm period which would have been nice to have the lido open for a snack, or if you were returning late from an excursion and wanted something more casual to eat.
2) the only time I ever felt encroached upon in terms of up selling was in the lido - there was a near constant pressure to look at the Canaletto menu and make a reservation, which we didn’t experience any other time and which was a little annoying.
Dive-in and New York Deli and Pizza often had huge queues and waiting times, but dive-in in particular was worth the wait. It’s good to note that you can customise any of the burgers from toppings to cooking times. New York deli also has constantly replenished jugs of iced water, iced tea and lemonade so this is a good place to grab a complimentary drink.
This cruise took place during the US spring break season - as a result there was a great age range on this sailing, including others like us in our twenties. However, it did mean that the lido pool wasn’t almost unusable for anyone other than families which is to be expected. For some reason, even on warm, perfect days, they would leave the retractable roof only semi open, and this caused a great degree of echo within the pool area which is not very relaxing.
Aside from our first night, we ate in the MDR every evening. Our first experience was the first Gala Night which was, in all honesty, utter chaos. We had a reservation for 20:30, but it was nearly 9pm by the time we were seated. We felt like we received little care or attention, and the service felt extremely rushed (no doubt due to the waitstaff being rushed of their feet). Things improved however on subsequent evenings, and we felt that (apart from all the clearing up going on around you) these later dining times tended to work best. One evening we were seated upstairs where the set dining is, and the service we received there was much better which seems rather telling. We had selected anytime dining to better our chances at securing a table for two. However, we think that next time we would probably go for the late sitting set dining as our experience of the service there was much better and far less rushed, and the upper level had a much quieter and more sophisticated atmosphere. In truth, we also missed the opportunity to get to know our waiters.
Our first port of call was Amber Cove. We had pre-booked the Dominican Coffee excursion. We enjoyed the excursion, though it involved nearly three hours round trip of travel and was probably not worth the money charged. However, it was a nice opportunity to support a local project, and enjoy a local meal.
In San Juan we chose to make our own plans, and went to the Bacardi factory the other side of the bay. This is fairly accessible by Uber in about 25 mins. Again, being spring break, this was quite a rowdy afternoon, but it was fun to learn about the Bacardi brand and taste some of their trademark cocktails. This was our first time in PR, and we would probably not suggest this tour to first timers as we would have liked to have had more time to explore old San Juan in hindsight, and travelling to and from Bacardi sterilised the rest of the day. There are plenty of nice places to wander within walking distance of the ship - we enjoyed finding a nice bar and just sitting and talking with a drink or an ice cream.
Our next stop was Charlotte Amalie. We had prepaid for the Kayak, Snorkel and Trek at Cas Cay excursion and this was 200% worth it, and the highlight of our cruise. The guide was extremely knowledgeable, and whilst a little strenuous if you are not used to exercise, it was accessible to all. The ‘hike’ portion is really just a twenty minute walk, on which you get to see some hermit crabs and a blow hole.
As it turned out, Charlotte Amalie would be our last port of call as at about 6am on the morning we were due to call at Half Moon Cay, the Captain informed us that the ship had lost power and was drifting. After around 30 mins or so, they did manage to restore partial power, but the Captain eventually decided that he did not feel able to call at Half Moon Cay for a number of reasons. He handled this very well, but I think it is rather disconcerting that a brand new ship can lose all four generators at once, and only be able to get half back up and running within a reasonable time period. This was a great shame as we were really looking forward to Half Moon Cay. We received $50 credit and port taxes back as compensation.
Our overall impression was great - we felt that the Nieuw Statendam was a good medium between the tradition of lines like Cunard, and the night life of lines like Celebrity. I would certainly love to travel onboard again though unfortunately I will say that the only negative thing I can really say is the smoking situation in the Casino - I know this is a bit of a chestnut in these forums, but I do find it extremely uncomfortable, and somewhat bizarre that in a brand new ship the design is such that whilst there is a beautiful staircase at the casino, the smoke is able to easily transfer to other public areas.