As a gentle breeze murmured through trees fringing the shoreline, I put down my book, donned sunglasses, and eyeballed the view from my shaded chaise. The crescent-shaped beach cradled a Caribbean blues mosaic blending turquoise, azure, sapphire, cerulean, lapis, and cobalt.
Fewer than 15 feet beyond my toes, swimmers splashed in frothy waves. Larger swells challenged stand-up paddle-boarders, kayakers, and Hobie Cat sailors, before curling and breaking. In an adjacent chaise, my husband dozed, lulled to sleep by the water music. Ahhhh, even now, months after returning from a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam, visualizing Half Moon Cay in my mind’s eye buoys my winter-weary soul.
Seven nights, three Western Caribbean cruise ports, two days at sea, and one private island added up to a much-needed, restorative respite after a stressful couple of months. Truth is, neither my husband nor I previously understood the appeal of a big ship. Not that we’re introverts, but living in a small town in a rural state hadn’t conditioned us to crowds. We couldn’t imagine cruising aboard a ship carrying thousands.
And yet, when we needed to get off life’s treadmill, craved the elusive pleasures of doing nothing, and desired a last dose of sunshine and warmth before the damp cold of a New England winter set in, the ease and all inclusive-nature of cruising made it a viable option. That’s how we found ourselves one month later on a Western Caribbean cruise.
Living large while thinking small on a Western Caribbean cruise
A sister ship to the Konigsdam and the second of Holland America’s Pinnacle-class ships, the 2,666-passenger Nieuw Statendam is decked out—literally—with a music theme: decks include Beethoven, Gershwin, Mozart, and Schubert. We chose this cruise not only for the dates and itinerary but also because a friend, who cruises frequently, eased our crowd concerns by sharing tips and techniques. Over our eight-day cruise, we discovered it is indeed possible to simultaneously live large while thinking small.
One of her recommendations was to book a stateroom with a balcony. Check!
Our Verandah stateroom on the Beethoven deck made up for its low level with an especially large balcony complete with two chairs with footrests and a small table. Although upper decks offer elevated views, we’d choose this level again, if only for the size of the balcony. My friend also recommended taking advantage of room service, and our balcony’s size allowed us to comfortably enjoy meals outside.
We also joined Holland America’s Club Orange, which offers a nice range of perks, including stateroom upgrade, an exclusive (small) restaurant open for breakfast and dinner, and premium in-room breakfast options. Other pluses: priority access for check-in, guest services, restaurant reservations, and shore excursions. And, members receive special amenities including a welcome glass of sparkling wine, nicer bathrobes, and a fancy tote bag.
One of the biggest challenges of cruising is eating healthfully and avoiding weight gain. The multitude of choices aboard made it easy. Mornings we either ordered room service or dined in the Club Orange restaurant, where we were greeted with mimosas. Nice! For lunch, we ordered pizza from New York Deli & Pizza by the Lido pool, savored soup and sandwiches from the Grand Dutch Café, and sampled our way through the Lido Market Buffet.
That buffet would please even the fussiest diner or satisfy the most restrictive diet with its mind-boggling array of well-prepared American and international fare served from stations. Although we’d planned to dine in the main dining room, we enjoyed only afternoon tea there, which is offered on sea days. One evening when we were considering it, we realized it was a Gala Night, for which guests are requested to wear dressier duds. We had no desire to change, so off to the buffet.
Our most memorable dining experiences were in the ship’s specialty restaurants, which offer a more intimate experience, but charge a premium. We made dinner reservations at three of them. First up: Nami Sushi, which won us over from the minute we sat down at the sushi bar. Every item we chose from the a la carte menu ($6-15) impressed us with presentation, creativity, and taste. We enjoyed it so much, we ordered room-service bento boxes on our last night. Those had us wishing we had another night to repeat them.
The Nami Sushi bar occupies a small section of Tamarind ($25pp), a specialty restaurant featuring Pan-Asian cuisine. It also wowed us, from the wok-seared lobster & shrimp gyoza to the crispy duck with ginger-chile glaze to the house-made lemon-basil, yuzu, and lychee sorbets.
One glance at Canaletto’s menu ($19pp), and we wisely put all thoughts of weight control aside. Classic Italian fare is the specialty here, and we indulged. An antipasto plate kicked off the meal. That was chased by langoustine-tomato soup and Canaletto salad. Although full, we managed to make branzino alla siciliana and the night’s special, veal saltimbocca alla romano both disappear. Afterward, in an attempt to atone, we walked the jogging track in the Sports Court on the Sun Deck.
Other specialty restaurants aboard included the Pinnacle Grille ($39), which serves Pacific Northwest-inspired fare, and Rudi’s Sel De Mer, Master Chef Rudi Sodamin’s French brasserie (a la carte dishes, $18-35).
Little time to do nothing
Boredom is not an option aboard the Nieuw Statendam. The abundance of activities made it difficult to keep to my goal of doing nothing. Educational pursuits include a Microsoft Studio, a wine-blending bar, America’s Test Kitchen demonstrations, educational presentations, tastings, a kitchen tour, and more. Other pastimes include enjoying the full-service Greenhouse Spa, working off calories in the well-equipped fitness center, dropping greenbacks in the onboard shops, and trying to beat the odds in the casino.
While we expected onboard professional entertainment, the talent blew us away.
In addition, more than a dozen bars and lounges make it easy to keep lubricated. On our last day, I discovered the Explorations Café, home to the Crow’s Nest coffee bar. Also here: cards games and jigsaw puzzles in progress, books for reading or perusing, and sigh-worthy views.
While we expected onboard professional entertainment, the talent blew us away. The Music Walk on Deck 2 makes it easy to sashay through the venues. Chamber musicians perform on the Lincoln Center Stage. Two singer/pianists share chart-toppers through the decades at Billboard Onboard. Both B.B. King’s Blues Club and the Rolling Stone Rock Room have room for guests to trip the light fantastic. The huge World Stage, with a wrap-around screen, presents music, dance, movies, and more.
Western Caribbean cruise ports of call
Our Western Caribbean cruise included two days at sea and four ports. Because we booked so late, many of the excursions we would have enjoyed were booked. That didn’t bother us, though, as our goal for this cruise was primarily to relax and disconnect.
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Our first day, spent at anchor off Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, made that easy. Although a slew of beach, boat, and water activities, including riding horses through the surf, were offered, we opted for slug mode. We snagged two chaises away from the hubbub and read, relaxed, and napped, rousing only to check out the lunch buffet.
After a day at sea, we docked in Falmouth. Among excursions here were: Great Houses, island history and fare, horseback riding, water sports, a bobsled adventure, dolphin encounters, and options for visiting a beach club or a property with freshwater fun. We browsed the port shops and ventured into the town for a walkabout.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Bustling Georgetown reminded me of Hamilton, Bermuda, with its tony shops. Other passengers went off on excursions that included viewing the undersea world from a submarine or semi-submersible, sailing, diving, snorkeling, touring heritage sights, seeing natural landmarks, tasting local rum and rum cake, or visiting a turtle farm. Instead, we padded through the downtown and spent a worthwhile hour in the National Museum.
In Cozumel, our ship offered a mind-boggling 50 different excursions. Possibilities ran the gamut, from culture, heritage, sightseeing, and beach visits to boating, water sports including deep-sea fishing, golf, and combos. Since the next day, our last, would be at sea, we wanted to spend this one immersed in the Caribbean’s most famed assets: sun, sand, and palm trees.
We considered the varied options, especially those visiting Mayan ruins. But, the four-hour Elite Champagne Catamaran Sail & Snorkel excursion paired two of my loves—snorkeling and Champagne—with the sun, sand, and palm trees trifecta. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because too few people splurged for it. Instead, we substituted the Fury Catamaran Snorkel & Beach Party, which was more of a beer and margarita shindig, but satisfied the itch.
Not ready to board the ship after returning, we wandered around the port as passengers from the Nieuw Statendam and other docked boats straggled back to the ships. The shops and waterfront bars emptied. Quietude replaced festive noise. Even as the sun began calling it a day, we lingered. Ambling up to a colorful bar, we ordered a couple of umbrella drinks, then settled at an outdoor, waterside table amidst palm trees.
Knowing that tomorrow, our last day, would be at sea and the following one we’d be homeward bound, we immersed in that rare sense of total relaxation, sipping slowly and savoring the experience until our glasses were empty, nature’s fiery color show dimmed, and our ship’s lights came on calling us home.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Plentiful opportunities to pursue interests from history and culture to food and wine with both onboard activities and on port excursions.
- Accommodations aboard the Nieuw Statendam also include Vista, Signature, Neptune, and Pinnacle suites. Perks for Neptune and Pinnacle guests include an exclusive Neptune Lounge, a private concierge, and an array of complimentary services.
- Exceptional professional entertainment that plays to the crowd—from Beethoven to the Rat Pack to the Beatles and beyond.
- Fully accessible staterooms and suites are available.
- Excursions are graded by difficulty, from easy to strenuous, as well as for wheelchair accessibility.
- Some ports require anchoring and traveling by tender, which may be challenging for those with mobility issues.
- A few Western Caribbean cruise excursions include long rides on buses that may not be air-conditioned or as comfortable as tour buses in the states. Not all excursions are accessible.
- Guests requiring special assistance should contact Holland America’s Guest Accessibility Department at least 45 days prior to departure.
IF YOU GO
- More about the M.S. Nieuw Statendam
Disclosure: The author paid for her cruise; Holland America Line provided a stipend covering dining in some specialty restaurants and an excursion experience.
All photo credits: Hilary Nangle
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