“Our neighbors are probably getting ready to start shoveling snow, but look at us here!” a man said to his companion at the beach on Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s idyllic private island in the Bahamas. This destination is a highlight of the line’s Caribbean cruise, particularly among people trying to escape winter. The couple, fanned by balmy breezes, had powder-soft sand under their toes and a panorama of calm, turquoise waters.
Aside from beaches in wintertime, other features such as rainforests, waterfalls, towns featuring colonial architecture and unpacking only once convey the popularity of a Holland America Caribbean cruise. Add to this a battalion of staff to see to your every need — from keeping your cabin shipshape daily to serving you gourmet fare every evening, and you have the recipe for a perfect vacation. The Caribbean cruise experience is even more delightful when the vessel whisking you from one blissful island to another is Holland America’s newest ship, the Nieuw Statendam, with her modern amenities and legendary friendly staff.
My husband Humberto and I sailed on her this fall for 14 days. Among the highlights of the cruise were:
- Two days at Half Moon Cay: Our 14-day itinerary included two stops on this island paradise, ideal for swimming and snorkeling in crystalline waters and for an abundance of activities, including stingray encounters, horseback riding and parasailing. After the adventures, we were served a delicious lunch of grilled lobster tail with Caribbean rice and beans and pineapple sauce with a side of calypso music by a local band.
- Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic: One of the attractions is Ocean World Adventure Park. Among the activities included in a day pass are dolphin, sea lion, shark and bird shows; snorkeling in the Tropical Reef Aquarium; and hiking in a rainforest trail.
- San Juan, one of the brightest stars of the Caribbean: Puerto Rico welcomes cruise guests with many options, including a driving tour to a waterfall at El Yunque National Forest, a musical show with Caribbean dances, and tours to Old and New San Juan and the Spanish fortresses of El Morro and San Cristobal. We enjoyed going for a stroll in Old San Juan, a favorite of ours with its colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and picturesque plazas. A stop at Princesa Gastrobar offered us the delights of authentic Puerto Rican dishes, including “mofongo” made with plantains, salt, garlic, olive oil, broth and sometime pork rinds.
- St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: The possibilities for relaxation and fun include a visit to the beautiful Magens Bay, with its heart-shape and aquamarine waters; and a visit to Coral World Ocean Park. Next to Coral World is lovely Coki Beach, great for swimming and snorkeling.
- Cozumel: A sacred island for the Mayas as they considered it their “Eden,” Cozumel offers much to modern visitors. Among the attractions is Chankanaab National Park, with a beautiful lagoon similar to a large aquarium with lots of marine life. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Maya ruins of Chichén Itza in the Yucatan is a superb optional excursion. Trips to the Pyramid of Kukulkan were offered, as were trips to the Maya ruins of Tulum near Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean Sea.
And, of course, the Nieuw Statendam is also a major highlight — a floating island in itself. Holland America’s newest vessel and the second of its Pinnacle Class, she is a sister ship to the Koningsdam. A modern, medium-sized ship launched in December of 2018, she accommodates 2,666 passengers in elegant comfort. Her interior design is inspired in the fluid lines of musical instruments and boasts an abundance of art and floral arrangements to create a gracious, pleasant ambiance. Guests can access on board all the facilities and conveniences today’s cruise passengers expect: a spa, pools, casino, main dining room and alternative restaurants. Options include Rudi’s Sel de Mer, with French cuisine and delicious seafood; the Grand Dutch Café, with delectable pastries and light lunch bites; and the ever-popular Pinnacle Grill, with steaks, seafood and other gourmet fare. We always make it a point to dine there at least twice during a cruise!
Activities and entertainment on the Nieuw Statendam include culinary demonstrations and classes from America’s Test Kitchen, live entertainment at the Music Walk with varied venues including the Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard, Rolling Stone Rock Room and B.B. King’s Blues Club. In addition, guests can enjoy live music in the main show lounge, the World Stage, which is a two-level, state-of-the-art theater; and the BBC Earth Experiences, where the natural wonders of the world are expressed through groundbreaking concerts and films.