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Holland America launches its 15th ship. Words: Sally Macmillan.

MS Nieuw Amsterdam’s inaugural cruise took place in July and I joined journalists and travel industry representatives from around the world for a four-day round trip from Venice to Dubrovnik. The cruise was packed with ceremonies and behind-the-scenes tours of Holland America Line’s newest ship, the line’s 15th and an almost identical sister to the Signature Class Eurodam, which launched in 2008.

She is the fourth HAL ship to carry the name Nieuw Amsterdam and the 11th HAL ship to be christened by a member of the Dutch royal family. She was christened by HRH Princess Máxima of the Netherlands. A flotilla of 15 speedboats bearing the captains of HAL’s 15 ships – all handsomely decked out in their dress uniforms – preceded the princess’s arrival at the cruise terminal, and it was certainly a spectacle to behold. The official dedication lunch was held in the Manhattan Dining Room, the ship’s main restaurant – a circular, two-tiered venue on aft decks two and three that can seat 1,114 guests. Crisp white tablecloths, top-quality silverware, extensive lunch and dinner menus plus attentive service are the order of the day here.

Including Manhattan, there are five dining venues aboard: Canaletto and Lido Restaurants; Tamarind, an Asian specialty restaurant; and Pinnacle Grill – there’s a surcharge for dining at the latter two restaurants and bookings are essential. Pizzas are available at Slice, by the pool, and the Terrace Grill serves burgers and wraps. One of my favourite spots was Explorations Café, where you can enjoy coffee from 7am to 11pm while you browse the internet, read the newspapers or play a game of chess.

Lido is a buffet that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Canaletto is open for dinner only. It offers a set menu of antipasti, pastas and desserts and, while the food was not inspiring and the service a bit hit and miss, it had a good selection of reasonably priced wines. In fact, the night our party dined at Pinnacle Grill – steaks and seafood are the specialties – our waitress fetched us a bottle of Italian red from Canaletto that was considerably better value than the rather insipid French red we’d chosen from the Pinnacle Grill menu. The décor in Pinnacle Grill is a melange of slate-grey, cream and coffee and you definitely want to dress up for an evening meal here. A feature is the Master Chef’s Table – for US$89, you can book a seven-course degustation dinner, including selected wines.

Artworks throughout the ship celebrate the historic links between Holland and Manhattan (originally named Nieuw Amsterdam by the Dutch colonists). Working my way up the aft staircases, I saw some amazing pieces – screen-prints by Andy Warhol; lithographs by Christo of his Times Square wrapping in 1973; Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Shipboard Girl’ litho and ceramic plates, and Tom Wesselmann screen-prints. There are sculptures and Native American artefacts in unexpected niches, antiques such as 17th-century Delft porcelain pots and, in the atrium, there is a massive chandelier that represents the skyscrapers of New York.

The teen-only Loft on the Panorama Deck continues the Manhattan theme – walls display graffiti murals and there’s even a genuine New York yellow cab and an old-fashioned hot-dog stand.

Our deluxe verandah suite (23.6m²) was comfortable, with plenty of storage space, though two people could use more desk/dressing table space; the bathroom was stocked with Elemis products and comfortable cotton bathrobes. Two-thirds of the suites have private verandahs.

Passengers are encouraged to re-use towels, and lights are activated by your keycard so you can’t leave lights on while you’re out of your cabin. Nieuw Amsterdam is HAL’s ‘greenest’ ship in terms of fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and waste recycling, and a tour of the engine room with Bill Morani, HAL’s VP Safety, Environment & Health and Kieron Connelly, Safety, Environment and Health Officer, was an eye-opening experience. We were shown the systems used to treat sewage (blackwater), bath and shower water (greywater), bilge and ballast water; and the paper- and glass-recycling sections; and learned that food waste is ground up and either mixed with paper and incinerated or discharged at sea. What is most incredible is that all rubbish is hand-sorted before being recycled.

While Nieuw Amsterdam boasts state-of-the-art technology, she is a mid-sized vessel, albeit HAL’s biggest, and can traverse the Panama Canal with literally one inch to spare on each side. There are so many public spaces that you never feel ‘crowded’ – and our cruise was at full capacity. From November to March, she will be sailing in the Caribbean before returning to Europe in April 2011.

FACT FILE:

Cruise Line: Holland America Line

Vessel: MS Nieuw Amsterdam

Max passenger capacity: 2,106

Passenger decks: 11

GRT: 86,700 tons

Entered service: July 2010

Facilities: 5 restaurants; 8 bars and cafes; 2 swimming pools; Greenhouse Spa and Salon; fitness centre; library; internet centre; casino; cinema; show theatre; private poolside cabanas; Culinary Arts Center; wi-fi in staterooms; kids’ club and teen-only area; duty-free shops and boutiques.