Itinerary: Miami, Nassau, Half Moon Cay, At Sea, Miami read cruise blog
For those of you who follow our blog and website, you know that we are not big fans of short press junket-type cruises. We get a lot of invitations to 2- and 3-day inaugural events. We turn down most of them because the experience is just not typical of what you, the consumer, will get when you cruise on that ship. Also, most new ships are so large that there is no way to even see every venue in two or three days, much less experience them. So, when we were invited to a 4-day media preview of the new ms Koningsdam as she made her Caribbean debut, we hesitated. However, Holland America is such a significant brand with our followers, we felt as if we needed to go and do our best to cover this huge new ship.
A Mini Review of ms Koningsdam
A lot has changed at Holland America since our first cruise with them back in 2007. In fact, it is safe to say that no other cruise line has undergone such a major transformation. The evolution of the brand has been noticeable over the past several years, but with the introduction of the new ms Koningsdam, a new Holland America smacks you right in the face.
The HAL DNA is still evident on Koningsdam, so those of you familiar with the Holland America experience will still feel at home here. For those of you who have hesitated to book a Holland America cruise, fearing that it is the "old person's" cruise line, belay your fears. ms Koningsdam is not your father's (or grandfather's) Holland America ship.
At 99,000 tons, Koningsdam can carry 2,650 guests, so it is a large ship, not obscenely large, but large nonetheless. This first Pinnacle Class ship is larger than either Eurodam or Nieuw Amsterdam (Signature Class), yet because of its design, feels smaller. How is that possible?
The magic happens on the Plaza and Promenade Decks (2 & 3 respectively), where guests tend to spend a majority of their time, especially in the afternoons and evenings. HAL has decided to offer more, smaller venues on these decks than on previous ships. There is an obvious focus on culinary interests and on entertainment. New restaurants include Sel de Mer ("Sea Salt" in French), a seafood brasserie located on Plaza Deck, just aft of the ship's Atrium and directly across from the Ocean Bar.
Sel de Mer
This intimate new seafood brasserie offers a contemporary twist on French classics — from seafood chowder to salt-crusted whole fish, scallops and bouillabaisse. Sel de Mer re-creates a setting reminiscent of a fine French brasserie where waiters are traditionally dressed and guests may choose their evening meal from a selection of fresh fish and shellfish displayed on ice in the center of the room. We were invited to a special lunch at Sel de Mer exclusively for the journalists on board and we were quite impressed.
Another dining experience we enjoyed was the all-new Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine Magazine. This entirely new concept should not be confused with the Culinary Arts Center on other HAL ships. This venue is now a stand-alone restaurant with a full demonstration kitchen. During the day, the facility is used for hands-on cooking demonstrations and classes, but in the evening it becomes a fully-functioning restaurant with a prixe fixe menu ($39 per person).
Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine Magazine
Our meal at Culinary Arts Center was definitely the culinary highlight of our four days aboard Koningsdam. The five-course meal was one of the most memorable in recent history, on land or sea. Chefs working in the open kitchen take time throughout the meal to describe the preparation and presentation of each masterfully-prepared dish. Each dish was meticulously presented and the food preparation was near perfection. Put simply, no sailing aboard Koningsdam is complete without dining at the Culinary Arts Center.
Tweezers are used to place micro-greens on our salads at Culinary Arts Center
Holland America fans will be pleased to know that Tamarind Asian Restaurant is also available, as is Canaletto Italian. Canaletto is still carved out of one corner of the Lido Market space (lido buffet on Deck 9), but has upgraded finishes and furnishings to distinguish it from the rest of Lido Market. In the evening, this space is transformed into a romantic, candle-lit Italian restaurant with an emphasis on the Italian concept of spartire, meaning "to share."
We joined a table of seven other journalists along with one of our hosts for dinner at Canaletto. I ordered the Antipasti starter, which was more than enough for two people to share. The same was true of Rickee's Beef Carpacchio. Both were delicious. Many other dishes were ordered at our table and passed around for everyone to try. For a pasta dish, I ordered the gnocchi with braised beef short ribs. I remembered how good this was on our last cruise aboard Nieuw Amsterdam, so I could not resist a repeat performance. It was every bit as good as I remembered. Rickee ordered the spaghetti with meat sauce, which was also quite good, and more than one person should be allowed to consume. We were both so full after the pasta course that we could not even think about ordering a "main" course. At $15 per person, Canaletto is the best alternate dining value on Koningsdam.
The Pinnacle Grill remains as Koningsdam's upscale steak house, located on Plaza Deck just off the Atrium. We dined there one evening but were somewhat less impressed with the food there than in Culinary Arts Center or even Canaletto. Nevertheless, Pinnacle Grill is a beautiful, intimate restaurant with an extensive steakhouse menu. The cost to dine in Pinnacle Grill is $35 per person.
For traditional cruise ship dining, The Dining Room located aft on Plaza and Promenade decks is a visually stunning example of how Holland America is breaking from tradition. To me, the contemporary dining room decor invoked a feeling of dining inside a whale's rib cage. Nevertheless, the food and service here were spot-on. My Rack of Lamb was tender, delicious and perfectly cooked.
The Dining Room
The Lido Market Buffet on Deck 9 offers a huge variety of dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and most that we tried were good. There were a couple of items that missed the mark, but it is a buffet, after all. If your tastes lean toward burgers and dogs, check out Dive Inn out by the Lido Pool on Deck 9. Burgers and hot dogs are made to order, and the French fries are some of the best you will find anywhere.
Another new dining venue that we only got to try briefly is the Grand Dutch Cafe on Promenade Deck. This is a place to enjoy a beer, a coffee and a traditional Dutch snack. I wish we had more time to spend there as the menu looked very interesting.
Grand Dutch Cafe
Holland America has significantly overhauled the entertainment venues on Koningsdam as well. The Queen's Lounge now spans two levels with seating on both Plaza and Promenade decks and is home to B.B. King's Blues Club each evening. B.B. King's is one of the best live music venues we have seen on any ship. This is real jazz, performed by real jazz musicians.
B.B. King's Blues Club
Walk just a few steps forward on Plaza Deck and you will have to decide between the dueling pianos at Billboard Onboard (port side) or Lincoln Center Stage (starboard). This is Holland America's description of this venue:
"Billboard Onboard showcases the talents of live musicians — including two pianists, a guitarist and a DJ — who take turns performing shows centered around the interesting facts and figures of the music industry as chronicled by Billboard. Between the nightly sets and songs, guests can sing and play along with trivia questions presented on screens throughout the room."
We visited Lincoln Center Stage one evening and were treated to the best live classical performance we have ever enjoyed, performed by a quintet of a pianist, two violinists, a violist and a cellist.
Performance at Lincoln Center Stage
The entertainment journey on Plaza Deck continues with a walk forward, through the ship's casino, to World Stage, Koningsdam's main theater. World Stage is unlike any theater we have seen before. The showroom supports a "theater-in-the-round" experience that lends itself to a wide variety of performances because the stage can be configured in many different ways.
World Stage is more intimate than most large theaters on big ships. Guests can get close to the action in shows like Off The Charts with its variety of performances by the Koningsdam Singers and Dancers.
Off The Charts
The best show of the cruise in World Stage, however, was the Classical Concert featuring a backdrop video presentation of the BBC Earth television series, Frozen Planet.
BBC Frozen Planet concert
Because of the scheduling of shows and the layout of the ship, it is very possible to enjoy three, or perhaps, even four different performances each evening. No other cruise line we can think of has made such an investment in entertainment.
When it comes to accommodations, Koningsdam's Veranda Staterooms are very similar to those found on Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam. We much prefer the new, large shower stall over the previous tub/shower combo. And, while on the subject of showers, this one is one of the best we have experienced on any ship. The stateroom feels a little smaller, but the bathroom feels a little larger and, in our opinion, having the fantastic shower is worth losing a little space in the stateroom. The stateroom was reasonably quiet, even though it was located under the pool deck. We did hear some deck furniture being dragged around above us and some joggers, but overall, it was not bad. The noise and vibration from passengers slamming their stateroom door remains a problem.
Excellent, roomy shower stall
The large, flat-screen HD television is beautiful and there is good satellite programming. The desk is small, but large enough to hold a laptop and a few devices for recharging. A big thumbs up is earned for US-Style 110v outlets and USB chargers on the desk and on the wall behind the nightstands.
US 110 outlets and USB chargers, YES!
Our only major complaint with our Veranda Stateroom is HAL's smoking policy. Guests are still allowed to smoke on their verandas. We were unable to enjoy our veranda because of chain smokers on both sides of us! We had the same problem on our last Nieuw Amsterdam cruise in 2015. We have been told, however, that Holland America is changing its smoking policy in mid-2017 to remove smoking from verandas. Hurrah!
That pretty much sums our our abbreviated experience over our four days aboard ms Koningsdam. Four days is not long enough to explore all that this ship has to offer. But, it is long enough to determine that this ship represents the very interesting direction that Holland America is headed. If you are looking for a cruise ship with innovative dining options and unmatched entertainment choices, ms Koningsdam should be on your short list.
|It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines|