The first full day of our cruise brought us to a cloudless Key West, Florida. We spent a bit of time in port, but took it pretty easy, and then enjoyed more of what the Nieuw Amsterdam has to offer including a beautiful sail-away, pizza, our first experience with the main dining room.
Starting the Day
We woke up late (which we plan on doing most days this trip) and headed to breakfast at the Lido Restaurant (or Lido Marketplace – they can’t seem to decide). Keeping it light, we enjoyed a made-to-order omelet, which was better than many we’ve had – perhaps the ingredients were particularly fresh. Perhaps the chickens were in a great mood?
Next stop was Explorations Café for espresso. One interesting thing we noticed is that it’s actually, “Explorations Café powered by The New York Times”. In addition to be yet another nod to the New York theme aboard Nieuw Amsterdam, it also means you can access the New York Times from the onboard computer or your phone – free, without the need to purchase an internet package. We love the disconnect, but I’ll admit having the full newspaper to browse from my phone is nicer than the very abbreviated printed news summaries of days past.
We’ve been to Key West a number of times before and it’s always a pleasant experience. As a port of call it’s just easy and offers historical sites as well as great bars and dining. Cruising to Key West you’ll arrive in one of two places: the famous Mallory Square of the Naval Pier. Berthing right at Mallory Square is nice, as you walk right into the thick of things. Today Disney Wonder was at Mallory Square (a gorgeous ship by the way), so we ended up at the Naval Pier, which means you take a trolley or bus from the ship to Mallory Square. The busses run regularly, are free, and the ride is only five minutes, so it’s really not an inconvenience.
Often when we’re here we opt to use Old Town Trolley, a “hop-on, hop-off” service that runs all around the island, stopping at all the major sites. While we still love this option, today we opted to just go ashore for a couple hours and visit The Porch, a cute local bar. Oh, and we went to CVS. I mention this not because a pharmacy visit it exciting, but when our first stop is Key West it always take a little bit of pressure off as we know it’s easy to find anything that we may have forgot to bring along for the cruise.
As we walked around the town our major takeaway was that Key West, at least from the perspective of visitors, has completely recovered and is open for business. If you’re worried about storm damage making your visit less pleasant than it might otherwise be – don’t. The only sign of damage was actually at the Naval Pier, as there were scores (maybe more) of boats piled up which had been recently floated from the floor of the sea around the island – boats lost to Hurricane Irma. In the city the trees are full and beautiful, businesses open, power up, etc.
Our ship was scheduled to sail at 4pm and we were back quite a bit earlier than that, strolling the deck and enjoying the amazing weather. While hanging out with many of you on Periscope we grabbed a beer and Portobello burger from Dive In at the Terrace Grill (seriously, I’d like them to pick just one of those names – it’s a bit long). The burger was great, and the fries reminded me of the double-fried potatoes you get in Amsterdam or Curcacao. With the meal, I enjoyed a La Fin Du Monde, which I found on a surprisingly large beer menu – something which is becoming more common on ships, but isn’t yet standard.
If you’ve heard me talk about snacking on ships you may have heard me complain about pizza, as for some reason, ships just can’t manage do this well. Nieuw Amsterdam has a venue called New York Pizza (very creative) which is located by the aft pool, so after splitting the Portobello burger with Larissa we tried the pizza. It is made to order (not just heated, but actually baked up for you). We were handed a pager which went off when the pizza was done about ten minutes after ordering. The result? Not bad at all. It won’t win any awards on land, but if I’d had paid for that pizza (a small pie, good for one or two people) I’d be satisfied. The crust was thin and crispy, not doughy like we’ve had on other ships.
Dinner Time & The Living’s Easy
We headed to the Manhattan Dining Room on deck two for our first experience with the main dining room on Nieuw Amsterdam. We were initially set to dine during the second seating, but yesterday we changed to HAL’s flexible dining (I forget what they call it). This allows you to dine whenever you’d like, with whoever you’d like – but you may have a wait at peak times. We showed up and were told a table for two would be about 20 minutes. Like with the burger earlier, we were given a pager and told it would work most of the way across deck two. This meant we were able to head to Explorer’s Lounge for a drink where we enjoyed Adagio, a violin and piano duo.
Once our pager went off we headed back and were promptly seated. The menu offered a reasonable selection and while nothing stood out as remarkable, everything we had was good, and came out hot. We did notice that the vegetarian symbols on the menu seem arbitrarily placed, where some vegetarian items didn’t have the symbol, and others with the symbol clearly weren’t vegetarian. We see this on many cruise lines and there are many great ways to dine at sea with dietary restrictions – and while it’s not a big deal, it’s a bit puzzling.
Service throughout the meal was friendly without being overbearing, and bar service was easy to come by as well – a nice change as some lines make it very easy to get your first drink with dinner but getting a refill is tricky. The manager stopped by twice to ensure everything was to our liking. While enjoying dessert I asked about the possibility of having some Indian dishes during our sailing (something we love on land and sea) and were presented with a separate Indian menu for the next night. The menu was really a collection of items (all vegetarian as well), which we essentially just said, “yes” to, so we’ll be brought a full spread tomorrow. I’ll get a photo of this menu later.
With so many great options it was tricky to decide what to do after dinner, but we ended up spending most of the time in the Piano Bar with David. The crowd was actually a bit smaller in the late evening, but he kept going with a small (and very fun) group of us until around 1:30am. We again found bar service to be fantastic within the venue – never pestered, but glasses were rarely empty for more than a moment.
While chatting with several other guests at the end of the last set we realized that the ship would be adjusting the clocks overnight, advancing one hour. I still don’t know whether I prefer sticking to ship time or adjusting to local, it’s up to the captain as we’ve discussed before. What I do know is that when we got back to the cabin at 2:00am I was really not thrilled to realize it was actually 3:00am. We did arrive back to a towel-animal along with chocolates and the next day’s schedule. I honestly don’t care much about towel-animals, but I know some people love them, so it’s nice to see that it’s still a thing.
- Our room has a basket which is kept full of fresh fruit – a nice touch and something we thought had gone away in non-suite rooms.
- For all the great music on-board, we’ve not seen a live band by the pool, something that has been a bit of a surprise.
- The daily schedule is called “When & Where” and while comprehensive, really shows the difference in activity level between HAL and contemporary lines like Royal Caribbean or NCL.
- The main dining room has up-sells, which we’ve seen on other lines over the past few years. Tonight’s was Florida Stone Crab for $25 a pound.
Check out some more photos below, and look at our first few live blogs from this sailing.