Our Mediterranean cruise on Nieuw Amsterdam began in Barcelona in spring.

We arrived a couple of days earlier to enjoy the sights of this fabulous city and recover from the long flight. My husband, Peter, and I travelled with our friends, Chris and Ralph Murray, and this was our fourth and most adventurous cruise together. We’ve been friends for more than 40 years, so it was safe to say our friendship would survive 24 days of cruising.

We did back-to-back cruises, the first from Barcelona to Venice, stopping at Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples, Nafplion, Katakolon, Corfu and Dubrovnik. The second cruise was from Venice to Kotor, Piraeus, Istanbul, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Split and back to Venice.

Our embarkation at Barcelona went smoothly, with a young man spiriting away our luggage the moment our taxi pulled up at the port. A few minutes later he reappeared with our stateroom numbers written for us on a piece of paper. We immediately felt the good times were about to roll! 

The ship: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam was launched from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard in Venice on July 4, 2010. She is a mid-size ship catering for 2,100 passengers and
has a crew of 929. There were about 400 Australians on board.

Cabin: Our Superior Verandah Suite on Deck 6 had a verandah large enough for two coffee tables and four comfortable chairs. We enjoyed many glasses of wine here while watching the ship approach and leave the various ports of call. While we cruised into Venice our friends joined us on our verandah and we raised a champagne toast to the Bridge of Sighs, Piazza San Marco and all the wonderful sights we could see from this high vantage point – something I will always remember.

Our stateroom was large and had a comfortable king-size bed, a lounge area with a minibar and a TV, and a huge bathroom with double sinks, a spa bath and a separate shower. Cupboard space and drawers were more than adequate.

Our stateroom was close to the aft elevators, which was a great location for my husband to scoot up to the Lido buffet and bring me a cup of coffee in bed each morning – a service I definitely won’t get at home!

Food and drink: The food on board was of consistently good quality – in fact, the best we’ve experienced on a cruise. We had breakfast and some lunches at the casual Lido buffet and were spoilt for choice. This area was always extremely clean, the food and utensils were constantly replenished and the staff were always friendly and helpful.

We had a regular table in the Manhattan Dining Room for dinner, where we were offered a five-course menu that changed daily. Our table was next to a huge window and every evening we were treated to the most spectacular sunsets. I must mention our fantastic dining steward, Dede, who, like many of the staff, had been away from his family in Indonesia for nine months. Dede always had a smile on his face and nothing was ever too much trouble for him.

The ship also offers more intimate dining experiences at the Pinnacle Grill and the Tamarind Restaurant, which are reservation-only and have a charge of US$25 per person. We dined in both. The Pinnacle Grill, which was very sophisticated, offered seafood, premium beef dishes and an extensive wine list. The Tamarind Restaurant served a large variety of pan-Asian dishes, and everything we chose was delicious.

We had four formal evenings while on board and it was nice to see everyone, especially the men, dressed in formal evening wear.

Entertainment: The entertainment in the Showroom at Sea was a bit disappointing, with the exception of four young men with outstanding voices who formed the group Cantare. Because Nieuw Amsterdam was the original name for New York City, several of the shows were dedicated to New York, and while the singers and dancers put in a great effort, overall the shows were a let-down. We enjoyed watching juggling comedian Scotty McLean, who was extremely funny.

In the intimate Piano Bar each evening, Michael Sara played piano and sang songs made famous by Stevie Wonder, the Everly Brothers and Elton John, to name just a few. He also sang requests and it was standing room only on most evenings.

We visited 15 ports in 24 days and had only four full days on board, so we didn’t take advantage of many of the activities offered. We did, however, play trivia and bingo several times. We thought US$25 for four bingo cards was a little expensive and the prizes weren’t big enough to entice us to part with any more money. The floral arranging, lanyard making and cooking demonstrations we attended weren’t very interesting. Peter and Ralph, however, enjoyed the minigolf competitions. 

Ports of call: All the ports offered memorable experiences. The travel guide and stage presentations on the ship gave us a good indication of what to see in upcoming ports and weren’t overly geared to selling excursions.

The majority of the passengers were over 50 and many were happy to take advantage of the excellent excursions on offer, but because we are reasonably fit we decided we could see more and save money by organising our own tours or using public transport.

We did both, and in two ports, Athens and Istanbul, we hired a taxi for the full day very inexpensively. Because the drivers had local knowledge we saw many attractions that we may have missed on a larger tour, such as the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace in Athens, and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Some of the other cruisers missed the Grand Bazaar because the shuttle buses were unable to get through the traffic before it closed.

We took one excursion from the ship that was fantastic. At the port of Kusadasi in Turkey we were taken by bus to the ancient ruins of Ephesus and to the house of the Virgin Mary. Our tour guide spoke excellent English and was very informative.
It was a moving experience and one I’d highly recommend.

One of my favourite ports was the old walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. We walked the whole wall and visited the museum. Before returning to the ship we had a beautiful seafood platter and wine overlooking the busy port.

The verdict: Surroundings are very important to me and the design of Nieuw Amsterdam gives it an airy, light atmosphere, avoiding the ‘hemmed in’ feeling I’ve experienced on some other cruises. We enjoyed great food, great service and interesting ports. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another cruise with Holland America Line.

This review appeared in Cruise Passenger 50 and was written in 2013.