Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam
From Venice to Barcelona.
What’s it like?
VENICE is showing off tonight as we sail down the Grand Canal peering at twinkling chandeliers through windows of expensive hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants while gondoliers serenade tourists.
Our sleek ship, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam is taking her time as we pass outdoor restaurants in small squares where patrons sip wine, dine on pasta and stare at us as we sail sedately to the open seas.
Venice by night is a treat at any time but when you are in a towering ship crawling along the waterways enjoying a bird’s eye view of what has to be one of the most romantic cities in Europe, it is even better.
We are cruising from Venice to Barcelona on the Mediterranean Romance route visiting seven countries in 12 days along with more than 2000 passengers and 933 crew.
There’s no way you could attempt to drop in to seven countries in such a short time except by sea and that’s the beauty of cruising.
Once unpacked, sit back and enjoy an action packed ride as the ship visits Dubrovnik in Croatia, Kotor in Montenegro, Kerkira in Greece, Naples, Civitavecchia and Livorno in Italy, Monte Carlo in Monaco, Marseille in France and docks in Barcelona in Spain.
It’s a heady itinerary but it provides a snap shot of famous cities and a taste of the cuisine, culture and shopping. There are some great bus tours on offer which save time getting to well -known attractions because local bus and train connections aren’t always reliable.
Thankfully to build up stamina for the days ahead our first day is at sea which leaves plenty of time to explore the features of the ship, stretch out around the pool, have a coffee at the Explorations Café and a massage at the Greenhouse Spa.
Our daily news letter lists more than 50 activities on offer from a ship tour to cocktail sampling, digital workshop, art lecture and dance classes.
But I opt for a cooking lesson which is part of the cruise line’s major drawcards for those who fancy themselves as master chefs. Demonstrations and seminars are conducted by top chefs, wine experts and leading cookbook authors. You can also do a culinary cooking class with a maximum of 12, the popular Culinary Enrichment program with the ship’s own culinary staff and there’s a Culinary Art Centre for Kids program. It’s all conducted in an elaborate show kitchen with large plasma screen to ensure everyone has a great view. The class is packed and we leave armed with a recipes and inspiration.
Dining is a big part of cruising on Nieuw Amsterdam and there are lots of options.For casual dining head to the Lido Buffet for everything from a hearty breakfast to a night owls chocolate extravaganza after a floor show or on your way to the disco.The Terrace Grill offers pizza, tacos, nachos and hamburgers and the elegant Manhattan dining room offers regional favourites, vegetarian options and Greenhouse Spa cuisine.
As well as a fabulous menu there are also daily alternatives that allow passengers to choose simple fresh fish, chicken or sirloin steak. Okay, I admit I only tried the lighter option once. Other alternate dining options include the Pinnacle Grill which one night a week hosts
An Evening at Le Cirque which recreates the famous Le Cirque restaurants located in New York, Las Vegas and the Dominican Republic.
Ranked among the best in the world for decades by food experts and A-listers it is an evening to remember from the amuse bouche to the Lobster Salad, signature dish Chicken under a Brick and Crème Brulee Le Cirque. It costs an additional $39 per person or $59 with wine.
Another highlight is the Tamarind and the Silk Den where dinner is an extra $15 per person and features excellent Asian dishes from fat Asian dumplings and fusion sauces to Rijsttafel, a Dutch adaption of a traditional Indonesian dinner. Then there’s Italian themed Canaletto offering traditional favourites and if you are still hungry there is always room service.
Feeling guilty I head to the gym for great sea views and also walk the deck – seven times around equals a mile but somehow I always lose count.
Next day we start our city hop with a day in Dubrovnik seeing the sights and climbing the walls for great views. In Kotor we explore the small coastal city that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the next day in Kerkira, Greece we explore the old fortress built in 1546 and the Byzantine Museum.
We opt out of a city tour of Naples and take the bus for a rollercoaster ride along the Amalfi coast with its narrow roads that showcase the stunning coastline and quaint towns that seem to cling to the mountains.
While many head to Rome we use public transport to visit the Tarquinia founded in the 17th century – it was once the centre of the Etruscan civilisation.
In Livorno we take a break from sight-seeing and enjoy a well-known local seafood restaurant, Aragosta that opened in 1914. We later head to the famous Cinque Terre visiting Portovenere with its colourful houses and terraced land.
In Monte Carlo it’s the expensive yachts and boats that take centre stage along the port and
from Marseille we head out on a tour to the postcard perfect villages of Roussillon, regarded as one of the most beautiful villages of France.
Then Gordes which is another spectacular sight rising in picturesque tiers on the Vaucluse Plateau.
Each afternoon we return to our luxurious stateroom with photos galore, a few souvenirs and stories to tell. Pleased we aren’t rushing to catch a plane, we kick off our shoes, take a dip in the pool, plan our day in Barcelona and ponder where to dine – yes cruising is definitely for me.
What I liked
The ship was always looking its Sunday best, food was great and staff were excellent.
Holland America Line’s fleet of 15 ships offers more than 500 cruises to 415 ports in 98 countries. One- to 110-day itineraries visit all seven continents and highlights include Antarctica, South America, Australia/New Zealand and Asia voyages; four annual Grand Voyages; and popular sailings to ports in the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Canada/New England, Europe and Panama Canal. For details see hollandamerica.com