Opinion: Rocking at Sea at on Nieuw Statendam

If clients love different types of live musical entertainment, are foodie fans, have an exploratory mindset and yet like elements of traditional cruising, such as an elegant grand dining room, one new premium ship now in the mix is Holland America Line’s 99,836-grt Nieuw Statendam.

Earlier this month, Travel Agent sailed on this second, 2,666-passenger Pinnacle-class ship, a sister to Koningsdam, in Europe, just prior to the ship’s transatlantic crossing to Port Everglades, where it will home port this winter.  

While loyal Holland America fans will find much to like, this premium line isn’t just your grandfather’s cruise line anymore. It’s definitely evolving.

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For example, clients will find an intimate wine blending venue onboard, as well as high-tech shore experience touch screens in EXC (Exploration Central), a combination shore office, watering hole, relaxation area, observation lounge, library and destination immersion center. The ship also has a unique $1.4 million art collection.

Overall, I found much to like about Nieuw Statendam. First and foremost, service levels are high with friendly crew eager to help and interact with guests. Other stand-outs? Here are tidbits from our three-night cruise in Europe.   

Savory Pan-Asian Cuisine

Carrying 2,666 guests, Nieuw Statendam has a lovely Main Dining Room with stunning red and clear glass chandeliers, dramatic design with curved half-arches, a staircase and sea views. But what if guests who’ve dined here with hundreds of others, night after night, seek a bit more intimate experience or are celebrating a special anniversary or occasion?

One good option is the 140-seat Tamarind, serving pan-Asian cuisine from Southeast Asia, China and Japan. It has exotic cuisine and the feel of a trendy restaurant in an upscale boutique hotel. The venue is on Koningsdam too, but the line made a few changes with Nieuw Statendam.

First the line split out the sushi bar into its own adjacent area. Now called Nami Sushi and with a la carte pricing, it’s a partnership with Chef Andy Matsuda, sushi master and a member of the line’s Culinary Council.

Another new feature is the ability for Tamarind’s guests to dine fresco. While that wasn’t possible on our winter European cruise, it’s a nice Caribbean option.   

What’s on Tamarind’s menu? Appetizers range from Chinese five spice baby back ribs to crispy duck with steamed bao bun, from Thai citrus scallops to Matsuda’s tempura fig and arugula salad. Guests can also order spring rolls, soups and sushi.

Entrees on our cruise included a caramelized Hamachi clay pot, cashew barramundi red Thai curry, Mongolian barbecue lamb chops, dan-dan noodles, sweet-and-sour vegetable tempura, wok-seared lobster and shrimp, and more.

When I ask for a dish to be prepared “Thai hot” in the spice level and the restaurant hits the mark (not watering it down spice-wise as many eateries do), that’s impressive. My very spicy entrée was perfectly prepared, but Tamarind also can do “mild” well, according to others in my dining party.

Also new in Tamarind is a revitalized wine list; one savory red is the 2014 Muga Seleccion Especial Rioja from Spain. Tamarind has a $25 flat dining fee, and it’s open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are a “must.”

Intimate, Seafood Brasserie

An even more intimate specialty restaurant is the new 44-seat Rudi’s Sel de Mer, the first chef-branded eatery for Rudi Sodamin, Holland America’s master chef and Culinary Council chairman. The restaurant (without the Rudi branding) was first introduced on Koningsdam and is a pop-up eatery on other Holland America ships.

The experience begins as servers lay small loaves of French baguette – wrapped in cloth – on the table, along with an enticing tray of savory accompaniments. Next, it’s appetizer time, with choices that include fruits de mer (a seafood combination), prime beef steak tartare, marinated lobster, French onion soup, hot smoked salmon and more. I opted for the classic baked escargots.

Entrees ranged from rack of lamb to bouillabaisse Marseillaise, from duck a l’orange to fresh fish cooked the way the guest prefers or a 12-ounce lobster tail, my choice. In addition, each night there is one special entrée, such as “Coq au Vin” or a rack of veal.

At the top of this story, readers can flip through slide show photos of the cuisine. Pricing for this restaurant is a la carte (generally from $7 to $14 for appetizers, $19 to $32 for entrees). Given limited seating, reservations as far in advance as possible are “a must.”

Rolling Stone Rock Room: When Orlando Ashford, Holland America Line’s president, boarded Nieuw Statendam for the inaugural sailing, several guests couldn’t wait to tell him that they booked for one reason – the new Rolling Stone Rock Room within the ship’s Music Walk, a “live” entertainment avenue.

“To see that really encouraged me,” Ashford told reporters and guests, while acknowledging he was pleasantly surprised that the rock room would be someone’s sole reason to book.

That said, Music Walk has been a runaway hit with guests since its debut several years ago.  On Nieuw Statendam, singers at Billboard Onboardsit at “dueling” pianos in the center of the bar, and guests sing along with them or head to the dance floor. 

Alternatively, Lincoln Center Stage offers impressive classical music performances; musicians are vetted by the performing arts group. On our cruise the classical sets weren’t late at night, but in afternoon or early evening.

Both Lincoln Center Stage and B.B. King Blues Club, share the same performance venue on Nieuw Statendam. It features a large stage, intimate lower seating that rings a large dance floor, and comfortable upstairs perches for other guests who can peer down on the action.

When I meandered into the rear of that venue during one B.B. King Blues Club performance, it was “packed” with guests listening to blues standards from the B.B. Kings’ All Stars Band.

From Ashford’s perspective, “we deliver some of the best live music at sea,” and he calls the blues club “probably the best shift in energy.” It’s helping Holland America draw new guests.

Similarly, the line hopes the Rolling Stone Rock Room will do the same – with a Rolling Stone Magazine-vetted band playing four decades of classic rock hits. Catching the sets at this new music venue for three nights, I and fellow travelers felt that the rock band’s musicians were not just good but "exceptional," as demonstrated by their “covers” of standards from such artists as Queen, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynrd and others.    

Yes, it was loud, very loud, but, hey, it’s rock. But while the halls rocked right from the start of each set, only a few ladies danced solo on the dance floor for the first few songs. 

However, soon more people joined, and by the time the band was finishing up its set, the dance floor was crowded, with people – many in their 40s to 70s (some a bit older, some a bit younger) -- loving the live rock music.

Often, the entertainment rotates between venues, but check the daily program. On one night after dinner, I listened first to Billboard Onboard, then headed to the Rolling Stone Rock Room, went for a blues set at B.B. King Blues Club and finished up back at the rock room to end the evening. 

Comfortable, Well-Appointed Accommodations: Briefly touring several accommodations, I liked the new Oceanview Family Stateroom with two twins convertible to one queen sized-bed, plus a sofa that can fold out to accommodate two people and one upper pull-down berth.  

The family stateroom's split bathroom also makes good sense for multiple family members including kids needing to the use a sink or shower at the same time. One compartment has a bathtub/shower, sink and toilet, the other a sink and shower.  

The top suite I viewed onboard was #10005, a Neptune Spa Suite (SQ category); these range from 465 square feet to 502 square feet. See my photos at the top of this article.

Just inside the suite is a writing desk and then the space opens up to a large sitting area with forward facing windows, a lounging couch and two chairs, a large flat screen TV, and an entertaining area with mini-fridge, bar glasses, a coffee machine and fresh fruit.

Adjacent to the bed is the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door, opening to a normal sized balcony. But when a dividing panel on the balcony is opened, the veranda space then wraps around the front of the ship. Keeping that door panel shut, though, cuts down on hefty wind flow on the balcony when the ship is at sea.

The bathroom features a dual-sink vanity, large dual mirrors, a toilet and large shower. Nearby is the wardrobe area.   

For my stay in #6204, a Veranda Stateroom, I had a comfortable bed, humongous, wall-mounted TV., and a living room comprised of a lage writing desk with drawers (holding a hair dryer and make-up mirror), a sofa/pull-out couch and a cube-like small table.

Stateroom storage included two large wardrobes (containing robes, a safe, a shoeshine bin and pool towels), many drawers, plus a separate corner nook with shelves, a fruit bowl, and more storage. The bathroom was very roomy with a large shower, single sink, toilet and fluffy towels.

My stateroom steward was also attentive, always at hand, greeting me by name from day one, and asking about “how was your day?”

Parting Thoughts:  My three-night visit to Nieuw Statendam was a whirlwind and not a full cruise. That said, I enjoyed the specialty dining immensely and navigated to Music Walk night after night. So did others.

I met one couple in their 40s boarding an elevator after a night at Music Walk. They told me it was their first time on Holland America, but had previously sailed on Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and Oceania Cruises.

Bottom line: They absolutely loved Music Walk and the Rolling Stone Rock Room. “You know, I think we’ve found our cruise line,” the woman told me. Her husband nodded. For Holland America, that's precisely the mission -- bringing in new guests to the brand. 

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