Dam….What An Absolutely Brilliant Ship

July 6, 2010 -

John Heald

I’m sitting here in the most amazing ship’s library this side of Cunard so let’s see if it really is possible to combine a family cruise vacation with work. Here we go.

The tanzanite blue water glistens under a cloudless sky and sitting in the Dubrovnik bay is the stunning Signature-class Holland America ship……….Nieuw Amsterdam. Heidi and Kye are in Club HAL kids program having fun with toys and diapers while I sit here……..fully clothed ……..writing to you.

And right at the start of this blog thingy I want to tell you the most important news about Holland America’s new flagship. It is not full of passengers who have walkers and can remember where they were the day the Civil War finished. Just like the unsupported myth that Carnival only caters to young party popping people, the myth that Holland America is a cruise line for old people and their parents is also………absolute rubbish.

On this ship there are young families, there are 200-plus children, there are older people and retired persons who have brought their families on for special celebrations.

But they all have one thing in common. They have taken a Holland America cruise because it is the perfect fit for them – there’s absolutely nothing else on the market that will do.

Looking at these passengers you have no idea who they are though? They could be a farmer from Iowa or a diplomat from Amsterdam but they all look……..well……….cool. And this ship had a unique formula that is able to cater for all those demographics…….and that includes me.

I say that because even sitting here now, working, I feel relaxed and pampered and that is a very unusual feeling for me. I might as well start by telling you where I am now. As I explained at the start of the blog today I am in the library located on deck 11 forward. And what a library it is. In addition to 3,000 books, they have a huge inventory of audio books and the best place I have ever seen to read them. Huge floor to ceiling glass allows you fabulous sea views to enjoy while snuggled in a Lazy Boy-type cream covered chair to read Great French War Victories by Monsieur Larunaway or www.johnhealdsblog.com.

A big amount of space is allocated to this and the internet cafe which is located there as well. But it is space that has been brilliantly used and as I sit here at 9:35am it is very busy with young and old reading, interneting and relaxing.

I love Borders. You know those book shops that have a massive selection of books and places to sit and read them. I like it because being a bit of a speed reader I can spend the morning reading a book and not have to pay for the damn thing. The other reason I love Borders is that most of them have a Starbucks in them so I can sit and read Tales of a Latvian Pole Dancer by Nora Bollockov while sipping on a frapacrapacino. Holland America have done something similar and put the Explorations Cafe right in the library and reading area. This makes absolute sense and the proof of this is that everyone sitting here has a coffee with them.  I love this place.

Let’s go back to yesterday and the naming ceremony which I am sure many of you saw online. The godmother was Princess Maxima of Holland who is a beautiful young lady whose features were unfortunately hidden under the world’s largest hat. This is usual for royals whether they be from the UK or Holland. The brims of these hats are designed in such a way as to protect their porcelain like features from any low flying pigeons.

Anyway, the ceremony was full of class. It was hosted by Holland America’s President and CEO Stein Kruse who gave a rousing speech about Holland America’s tradition of excellence and service and how proud he was of the ship and her crew. He received lots of applause breaks which were due to his expert delivery and the fact that everyone could feel that the words he was speaking………came right from the heart.

The highlight for me and for many though was a very special presentation. For the first ever time in Holland America’s history and probably the first time in the industry’s history all of Holland America’s serving captains rose from under the stage. There they stood, 15 masters of the Holland America ships, resplendent in full dress blues, white caps in hand. They were led by the master of the Nieuw Amsterdam, Captain van Zanne. He must have been full of emotion don’t you think? Excited, proud and I am sure at some point he must have looked at the 15 other captains on stage and thought to himself “Ha ha, I got the new ship and you didn’t!”

If you missed the ceremony you can see it again on www.hollandamericablog.com along with loads of great photos and memories. I was honoured to be there.

Before the ceremony I hosted a lunch table on behalf of Carnival UK. My table mates included a senior director from Virgin Atlantic Airlines who I have to say was both funny and engaging gentlemen. They fly many of Holland America’s and those of other Carnival Corporation & plc companies. I thanked them for their partnership, talked to them about the gorgeous Niew Amsterdam and shamelessly begged for free upgrades.

And talking of lunch which was excellent by the way, leads me nicely into my favourite subject in the world………after Megan Fox’s bottom and my hatred of the French……..and that of course is a favourite subject of many here on the blog thingy………food……..glorious food. And there is a lot to talk about on that subject here on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

There is a choice of open, main and late sitting in the dining room as well as three specialty restaurants. One of them is called Tamarind and it is gets 5 huge glowing bright stars from me and my well-rounded belly. It is fantastic and quite honestly steals the show for me from the also brilliant Pinnacle Grill and its marvelous steakhouse fare and the Candeletto which offers casual food cooked to order and served on the lido deck.

So what does Tamarind serve and why is it so good?

Well, its theme is Pan Asian and I have to admit here that when Heidi asked me what that meant my reply of “it’s Asian food cooked in a pan” was met with a swift smack round the back of the head. But she had a good point………..what is Pan Asian?

Well, it’s a bit like the Da Vinci Code of restaurants I guess because usually there is something reassuring about a restaurant that leaves you in no doubt about what to expect. The Pinnacle Grill steakhouse is a fine example…….it serves mostly steak. A place with a name like Chang’s, your local Chinese restaurants, will of course be full of plastic dragons and tea lanterns and serve Kung Pao chicken and sweet and sour spaniel.

But what about Tamarind? Well this is a place with no plastic anything and is quite frankly as cool as Usher’s underpants. So Pan Asian, then………well it’s a restaurant, taking in the cuisines of China, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, a trick fiendishly difficult to pull off successfully in one small kitchen on a cruise ship I would think. But pull it off they do…………my meal last night was ……..”Sum tin wow” as they say in pan Asian speak. The highlight was the Satay Sampler which was quite simply one of the best meals I have had anywhere at anytime………it was truly historic.

Here’s the menu and the head Chef of the Tamarind restaurant the massively talented Tino Sugiarana.

Listen, I am not a professional writer and certainly I am no Gene Potter or Anita Dunham Sloan. Their job as cruise writers is to present the positives while trying to find something wrong. To find discord where there is harmony. To sprinkle a little bit of hay fever dust all over the perfect summer’s day.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find fault with something you love as much as I love my pan Asian Tamarind experience. But…….if I had a beard and worked for Holland America I would have the cruise director shouting about this and their other specialty restaurants from the top of the smoke stack. You see, that incredible meal, that meal of biblical proportions cost me just $15 per person …….let me say that again…….it cost me……well……it cost Carnival as they are paying for my trip ………..it cost Gerry Cahill……..$15!

But there is no advertising about this over the PA system. That’s just not the Holland America way I guess but who am I to criticize their long lasting tradition of excellence…..but…..as Heidi, Kye and I walked past on our first exploration of the ship we heard a couple say how much they would like to eat there but it was probably “very expensive.”

I told them it was $15 but I don’t think they believed me. And unfortunately there was no way for me to back this up as it is not written anywhere. So, a quick message to the CD of the Nieuw Amsterdam……..mate ……….get on the PA system……….tell them about Tamarind ……….tell them it’s just $15………….because you have a Pan-Asian goldmine here mate and it deserves to be full every night of every cruise. Oh yes…………and lunch at Tamarind………….is free!

Yep, the food here at every location is marvelous from the eggs Benedict station at breakfast to the complimentary room service menu that includes steak sandwiches, penne with chicken, burgers made to order, fries and other hot food treats. And yes, pick your jaw up from the floor because you heard me correctly………….it’s free.

Eating is very important to Holland America and the vast operation of feeding the 2,500 guests falls under the command of Executive Chef Rudi Sodamin who is not only brilliant in the kitchen but brilliant on stage as well.

That’s because Holland America hosts something on their ships which I have to say I am immensely jealous of. They have designed special theatres complete with a fully fitted kitchen from which the chefs prepare and cook some of Holland America’s speciality dishes ……… live ……in front of the passengers. As you can imagine……these performances and teaching classes have every seat in the “Culinary Arts Centre” taken…and yep…..it’s free. Look at today’s choices.

For the Love Of Chocolate – Chef Rudi will teach the passengers how to prepare the most indulgent and decadent chocolate treats.

It’s Your Party – How to entertain by cooking some very special appetizers.

Taste of Elegance – Chef Rudi will take you through how to cook an elegant menu for when that special guest is coming to dinner.

Heidi attended the It’s Your Party class while Kye and I made a pair of breasts out of Play Doo. My wife returned saying how brilliant the show was and went on to tell me about stuffed mushrooms and how she couldn’t wait to try some of the things she had learned. What got me though is how Heidi used the word “show” to describe what she had seen……because that is exactly what this is a show…….a cooking show……and we all know how popular those things are on TV. So congratulations Holland America for doing something that is relevant, educational and loads of fun.

Well, talking about shows it’s time to mention the entertainment here on the Nieuw Amsterdam and we will start with something else that made my wife very excited when she saw it in the program…………..while I went……………………..”bugger.”

You see the show that night featured an act called Abbacadabra……yep……..it was an Abba tribute show. Now I wrote a few weeks ago I think about how Heidi had been nagging me to see Mama Mia in London’s West end. I think I may have mentioned how I would rather have my thingy cooked in Pan Asian wok then have to sit through this show. Heidi had previously tied me to a chair and forced me to see the movie and unlike everyone else in the entire universe………I just didn’t get it. I don’t see the point of the story at all. A woman had rumpy pumpy with three men at some point in her drug fueled past and now the daughter was determined to find out which one was her Dad.

Heidi didn’t like it when I kept shouting things at the TV like “Go on Jerry Springer and get a sodding DNA test done and spare us the misery.” This was a movie for people who have breasts and a fondness for Swedish pop music. To me the word Sweden means stunning blonde girls all naked, in a sauna, sending digital photographs to one another on their slinky Ericsson telephones. Their husbands, meanwhile, are working at IKEA and are all called Thor. Yet mention Sweden to most people and they will say……ah yes ………Abba.

And as Heidi, Kye and I took our seats in the beautiful theatre I kept saying that I should take Kye out because the music would be too loud and it would upset it her. I was told to shut up both in English and Dutch.

The show started and unfortunately I have to report that Holland America’s tribute show to Abba starting Abracadabra was absolutely jaw droppingly fantastic. Everyone was on their feet, dancing and singing along. Young people who thought that Abba’s music was for really, really old people in their 40s were dancing up a storm. In the row in front of us were a group of Dutch retired people who were going absolutely crazy for the music and singing along to every song.

Kye was bouncing around on Heidi’s knee and 1,000 people in the showroom gave the performers the most incredible reaction. The show formula was simple. Take a great band playing music everyone knows and that most love, add lots of audience participation and make it last only 45 minutes and you have something very special. There were no dancing girls and boys, no scenery changes and gimmicks, just fun music which meant that fun times were had by all ….. don’t tell anyone will you…….but…….I loved it and even sang loudly to Dancing Queen…..I will be seeking professional help.

The cruise director is a chap called Shane Michaels. I haven’t actually met him yet although I must say he is an excellent public speaker and his announcements have been clear and articulate. He will be hosting activities and shows on the sea day and I will certainly hope to be able to congratulate him on being chosen as the CD of this brand new ship. There is a very wide choice of music from a fantastic piano bar whose entertainer I would love to steal and superb lounge bands, classical quartets and lots of other super live music. There is a dance club which when I checked late last night was hopping once again saying “bollocks” to those who may think that the night life on Holland America is a cup of cocoa and a good book. I went to bed at 12:20 am and every bar and lounge was very busy and fun was all around.

One lounge is dedicated to the art of the thingy I am writing to you on now…..the computer. In conjunction with Microsoft this room has been designed for learning, a complimentary way to sit at one of the many lap top computers in the room and have a dedicated person teach you how best to use it. Today there are lessons in taking photos and then how to slap them onto the computer. There are classes for beginners and the more advanced on all aspects in the world of computing. I looked in today and the class on using Windows was full. I think that this is a great addition to the activity line up, especially for people who may have a computer at home but have no way of truly understanding how it can make their lives hell……..sorry………better.

There is one other indoor activity I want to tell you about but first I have to talk about one of my favorite subjects………seats……….and comfort for yours and my bottom. I mentioned a few days ago about how as a good husband I had agreed to go with Heidi to see Sex and the Sh**tty 2. I think that blog was spent telling you how much I hated the film and hated those four slappers that I forgot to mention how damn uncomfortable the seats were. Where do cinemas get their seats from? I only ask because I during the movie while most of me had the most terrible time my arse has not had a more miserable time since it was beaten by Mr. Hounsell my English teacher who had caught me trying to fondle Sally Pool’s breasts behind the bike sheds.

As we were treated to yet another shot of the one that looks like a horse talking about some chap called Big and while the old blonde one was wearing her legs behind her ears to attract her men, I could almost hear my arse cheeks complaining: “Oh for God’s sake. Get on with it.”

At the end of the film my right buttock felt as though had been filled with six or seven gallons of concrete and that the left one had been sawn off completely. So if you are going to build a cinema take my advice, put comfy chairs in it………like Holland America has. They have huge Reccaro reclining leather seats that ooze comfort and are the perfect place to watch a first run movie from. What a great idea…….oh and unlike other lines…….yep……..it’s complimentary.

I am well aware that this is a long review and I haven’t even had time to write about the private cabanas by the pool, the luxurious adults only Cabana deck, the Greenhouse Spa or the artwork which…..I have to say……..is simply gorgeous. I haven’t had time to tell you about the decor and the subtle colours that make the ship feel warm and inviting wherever you are. I haven’t had time to tell you about the little things like the pamphlet in your stateroom that has the words “an important message from the captain” written on the front. This makes you open it immediately and read the personal message from the master of the vessel about safety, the environment and some of the rules and regulations of the ship. Just having this from the captain and not just a piece of paper shoved on your pillow makes a huge difference and as I said…..I am sure that like me……..everyone reads it.

I haven’t had time to tell you about the huge and I mean huge pools and I haven’t had time to tell you about the casino and the shops and the ……well the list goes on.

So, before I finish I want to talk about one last thing. The crew. For many, many years I have watched the Carnival Corporation & plc video that features on the guests TV. Those videos talk about excellent service and tradition and I know that you and I remember one thing about those videos. Have a think about it…………what sticks out? Yep…………you’ve got it. It’s the lineup of crew dressed in traditional uniform that greet you as you board and escort you to your stateroom whether you are staying in a basic stateroom or the most luxurious suite.

I have always thought that this feature looked good but let me tell you…..in real life it is an amazing start to your cruise. The crew here has never stopped smiling at me or at any of the guests. I have not been able to walk past a single crew member or officer who has not had a greeting and a smile for me. Yep…….it’s difficult to write this but here I go…..it is as friendly a crew as I have ever seen and this ship’s company is one that every ship’s crew should aspire to be. I am nobody here, just a fat man asking for a Diet Coke and a BLT….. Stein……I know you won’t ever read this but if by accident you do…..let me say that you should be so very, very proud of the men and women here on your Nieuw Amsterdam………….they are truly all something special.

Coming up is a montage of photos taken by Heidi and I which one of the Stephanies will post into a slide show thingy. You will see photos of lounges, crew and beautiful aspects of the ship. You will also see something that I think is absolutely brilliant. Each and every guest on this 10- day inaugural cruise will have the chance to sign a beautiful glass art piece which will have a permanent and everlasting place on this ship……….as will the people who first sailed on her. Anyway, here is the photo slide show.

I will be traveling tomorrow and therefore will not be writing a blog again until Thursday when normal blogging service will return. As I said, I am no travel writer and my words cannot possibly do this ship justice. All I can say that any pre conceived ideas that you or I may have had that Holland America was just for Mr. and Mrs. Useawalker from Florida have been sent packing.

She may not be all shouty and loud screaming look at me I am an Oasis or look how Epic I am……….nope ………..she simply bears the name of a city…… a very cool city full of stunning art, great places to eat and very cool places relax and have fun………. just like there is right here on this fabulous ship.

This was my first cruise with Holland America and before I boarded there was one question that I wanted answered………….here it is.

What kind of person cruises with Holland America?

The answer. I found is simple……….it’s people like me and you.

See you on Thursday.

Your friend

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.