There’s Only One First Time for Everything, and this Holland America Ship Made the Most of It
If there ever was an irresistible combination, it’s the opportunity to take a repositioning cruise on a ship’s maiden voyage. My husband, guide dog, and I found ourselves face-to-face with this happy set of circumstances on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam in December, 2018, and none of us put up the slightest resistance.
Sailing out of Civitavecchia in Italy, we spent two glorious weeks relaxing and relishing all the Nieuw Statendam had to offer. And that was a lot. By the time she completed her maiden voyage across the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nieuw Statendam proved she could easily meet Holland America’s high standards for quality, safety, and fun.
One of Holland America’s two Pinnacle Class ships – the largest in Holland America’s fleet. Nieuw Statendam has a capacity of 2,666 passengers and 1,100 crew. Perhaps because this was her maiden voyage, the ship carried more passengers than you would find on most repositioning cruises. Despite her debut status, she accomplished the crossing with few obvious first-time hiccups and without a single iceberg encounter.
What Is a Repositioning Cruise?
Cruise companies want their ships to sail where most passengers want to travel year-round. This means they have to move their ships around the globe to take advantage of the best weather in ports of call and at sea.
Also known as discovery voyages, relocation cruises, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings, and a host of other euphemisms, a repositioning cruise always involves the movement of ships from one operational region to another. For example, ships cruising Alaska or the Mediterranean during the summer will migrate to the Caribbean or the South Pacific for the winter season. The most popular times for moving ships around are Spring and Fall.
Unlike standard round-trip voyages, repositioning cruises travel in one direction. Our strategy is to travel to Europe in early Fall and head home on a repositioning cruise in November or early December. This gives us time to wind down from all that walking, exploring, and juggling our luggage on busses and trains.
Advantages to Booking a Repositioning Cruise Include:
• They are affordable, because cruise lines prefer to drop their rates rather than sail empty ships.
• They are less crowded, because families with school-age children usually have to wait for school holidays to travel.
• You receive the same level of service, fabulous food, and entertainment options you would find on a regular cruise.
• You visit several fascinating ports before the ocean crossing begins.
• Even with six or eight days at sea, there is no shortage of activities to keep you from boredom.
• You traverse time zones gradually – an hour every day or two – making disembarkation seamless for your system.
Disadvantages to Repositioning Cruises Include:
What’s So Special About a Maiden Voyage
The opportunity to experience the maiden voyage of cruise ship is a rarity. We may have come home with two quality commemorative coasters and a commemorative wall plate, as well as two week’s worth of happy memories. But it was the Nieuw Statendam’s newness – with it’s glory and glitches – that made the trip so special.
“We don’t know if everything is going to work,” Hotel Director, Don Habets told us. “There’s a difference between sea trials and sailing with passengers onboard.” And the ship carried more engineers than usual. That was because there were systems that couldn’t be properly tested in dry dock.
We were aware of a few issues that were quietly and efficiently sorted out, so we had plenty of time to fill our senses with Nieuw Statendam’s extraordinary and innovative features. I have to confess to feeling a tiny thrill knowing we were among the first to see and experience this remarkable ship.
Amazing Art Aboard Nieuw Statendam
Fragrant large and small floral arrangements graced the ship’s interior at every turn. The music, history, and culture-inspired art in elevator lobbies, common areas and cabins were a feast for the eyes, and the sculptures were touchable.
Deck Nine delivered a plexiglass reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David” with a smartphone in his hand. Not to be outdone by a modified classic, a day-glow electric guitar stood near an elevator bank. It was fashioned from non-flammable flooring material, however, it appeared to be melting into its base. And there was so much more.
In the three-story atrium hung an enormous sculpture consisting of delicate stainless steel bands that playfully reflected changing colors from overhead lighting. The Projections of varying sky-scapes – depending on time of day – brought the high ceiling to life. This reminded me a little of the dining hall at Hogwarts.
All the art was created by six artists and was valued at a whopping $4.1 million. But experiencing it on Nieuw Statendam was priceless.
Music, Music, Music
If more than one music genre lives in your soul, Nieuw Sttendam and her sister Pinnacle-Class ship, Koningsdam make it easy to indulge your eclectic cravings. Music Walk, located on Deck 2, is a musical buffet that takes cruise ship entertainment to a lofty new level.
Let’s begin with the World Stage, the ship’s main theatre. The venue occupies two levels at the bow. The Theatre is in the almost Round, with a two-story, 270-degree LED high definition screen behind the stage. World Stage presents 45-minute shows in the evening, and is the location for lectures and other activities during the day. We enjoyed a delightful solo flute concerts, a magician, a jazz singer, and a modern dance spectacular with phenomenal special effects.
The four smaller music venues included:
• Lincoln Center Stage, which offered classical music and movie themes performed by a pianist and string quartet during the day. In the evening, the venue became…
• BB King’s Blues Club, where a live band served up southern blues and classic soul. There you can put on your dancing shoes or sit and soak in the sophisticated sounds.
• Rolling Stone Rock Room, a partnership with Rolling Stone Magazine offered live Classic rock shows performed by a five-piece band three times per day.
• Billboard Onboard featured two singer/pianists performing all-time favorite hits. The shows were highly interactive with sing-alongs and audience requests.
We often caught the show at World Stage, then wandered Deck 2 to find music to fit our mood. Now, that what I call entertainment on steroids.
Dining Delights Nieuw Statendam
We found dining aboard Nieuw Statendam to-die-for and had to be careful not to let it become to-die-from. Trying to maintain our healthy eating habits while on our cruise was a challenge, but quality won over quantity, and we managed to walk – rather than waddle – off the ship in Fort Lauderdale.
Yes, we did indulge in the occasional gelato, decadent dessert, and rich appetizer. But our gastronomic focus was on lean meats, grilled seafood, creative salads, sashimi, and smoked salmon. Then, too, we had the Promenade Deck, where three full circuits constituted a mile.
In the evening we enjoyed superb service and cuisine, along with the company of our delightful table-mates in the main dining room. The two-story venue was spacious and bright with the warmth of red glass scattered among the clear chandeliers. We also treated ourselves to afternoon tea in the main dining room, which was great fun.
When we didn’t opt for a room-service breakfast, we headed for the Deck 9 Lido Market, where we could enjoy a made-to-order omelet or fruit and yogurt. Despite the tempting breads and pastries, we managed to avoid the carbs. Our habit at sea was to bring our computers, sit outside and work the morning away, then grab some lunch at one of the efficiently arranged Lido Market food stations.
Two Delightful Cafes Add More Choices
We also enjoyed visiting the two cafes onboard for a quiet lunch and/or good coffee served with a grand ocean view. Our favorite coffee-infused hideaway was Grand Dutch Café on deck three. Both the menu and staff were Dutch.
My husband fell in love with the fruit-filled pancakes, I fell for the pea soup, and we both loved the coffee. Other Dutch treats such as herring and Gouda cheese, as well as draft beer.were available, and the china on which the food was served was Royal Delft-ware.
The café charged for specialty coffees that were priced the same as, or less than, coffee chains ashore, and the coffee, in my opinion, was better. There was no charge for the food.
Specialty Restaurants Offer Even More Dining Choices
Along with the excellent dining options included in the price of our cruise, Nieuw Statendam offered several specialty restaurants that came with an up-charge. From Canaletto, a Trattoria style casual Italian gem to Rudi’s Sel de Mer, a whimsically appointed.eatery with a Mediterranean-inspired menu, there were plenty of choices for every taste and budget.
For $25 each, my husband and I delighted in a quiet Asian style dinner at Tamarind. The restaurant also offered a sushi bar for the same price, where we could have watched a master chef expertly prepare our food. Alas, that experience will have to wait for our next cruise.
Nieuw Statendam Accessibility
As more travelers with disabilities choose cruising vacations, Holland America is truly stepping up to the plate by making sure all passengers have a safe and inclusive vacation.
Nieuw Statendam provides:
• 27 wheelchair accessible staterooms,
• 13 ambulatory accessible rooms,
• amplified stateroom phones,
• accessible public restrooms,
• accessible dining and bar areas,
• accessible recreational facilities,
• lower playing tables in the Casino,
• a lowered reception counter,
• accessible fitness equipment,
• accessible Sauna; and more.
The ship hosted at least four service dogs of which we were aware: one assistance dog for a woman in a wheelchair, an emotional support dog, and two guide dogs. My guide became fast friends with the black Labrador from Holland. The two held court nearly every day on the Lido Deck. The ship provided a dog relief area on the Promenade Deck, which was hosed down regularly.
I found the ship’s website fully accessible with my text-to-speech software. I was able to keep track of all the news and information available to all passengers.
For those trying cruising for the first time, a repositioning cruise is the perfect way to spend an extended, affordable vacation. And if you’re worried about getting bored on a week-long crossing, fear not. You’ll find so many choices for activities, entertainment, and dining, the biggest challenge will be deciding what to do when.
My husband and I spent our sea days on this repositioning cruise working, playing team trivia, enjoying a stone massage at the Greenhouse Spa, hanging out at the pool, napping, attending lectures, and finding a host of other ways to relax and recharge.
For us, coming home from Europe on a Holland America cruise was the ideal remedy for work and travel overload. Now, what are you waiting for?
Disclosure: We would like to thank Holland America for enabling us to interview key members of the Nieuw Statendam crew, as well as for their generosity in making some of our delightful experiences possible. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.
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Penny – I enjoyed reading some of your travel blogs as well as seeing Simon’s accompanying photos. Thanks for sharing. Mary Lou Finlan