Our after-dinner stroll on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam landed us in the middle of a lively indoor street bash. Outside the Rolling Stone Rock Room several couples boogied to “A Hard Day’s Night,” others clapped along and more than a few junior cruisers wiggled to the familiar tune. As my husband, David, and I and our cousins, Wayne and Mary Jane, sashayed along the Deck Two Music Walk we heard a throaty songstress belting out Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Pied Piperlike, we followed the powerful beat along the corridor to the next venue, B.B. King’s Blues Club.
Much to our surprise and delight, our March sailing to the Western Caribbean moved to different rhythms. Music vibrates as HAL’s differentiator, especially on the line’s most recent ships. The music emphasis is part of the line’s strategy to maintain their “more mature” guests as well as to attract younger cruises from 30- to 50-something.
Three venues that hosted four different types of music nightly lined the Music Walk, an indoor promenade. Wide entranceways opened up the clubs to passersby like us, who effortlessly joined the party. No need to read the daily cruise guide to locate lounges scattered throughout the ship.
At the Rolling Stone Rock Room (a partnership with Rolling Stone magazine) in addition to Beatles’ covers, the live band blasted tunes by Counting Crows, ZZ Top and others. Two piano players-singers banged out tunes and took requests at Billboard Onboard across the hall. Those two lounges alternated performances. Farther down the corridor, buzzy B.B. King’s kept cruisers swaying with rhythm and blues, rock and soul sets.
Three times a day B.B. King’s morphed into Lincoln Center Stage. Every evening Mary Jane and I dressed early for dinner so we’d be on time for the very talented musicians who performed chamber music and “classical pops,” familiar pieces scored for a classical piano quintet and curated by Lincoln Center for the venue. Interestingly, the musicians organized the compositions by topic, focusing on women composers, movie themes or a night at the ballet. It’s rare for cruise ships to give real stage time to classical music. Even though many ships feature string quartets in their atriums, those musicians always compete with a background of clattering teacups, bar drinks and chatter. No such problem on HAL, plus the instrumentalists onboard the Nieuw Statendam have performed on famous stages. The venue grew more and more popular as the week went on.
World Stage, the main theater, hosts entertainment other than singers. A troupe of six, the StepONE Dance Co., mixed ballet and Broadway-style chorus-line moves to a background of dazzling digital graphics and laser lights. Their first performance of the week received a standing ovation. The second one, with fewer special effects, proved less enjoyable. We also liked Patrick Murray, a master ventriloquist, who partnered with Matilda, a funny Jamaican puppet with an attitude. She summed up her last gig’s crowd, saying, “The people on another cruise line were so old that when the waiter poured water in their glasses, they put their teeth in them.” The room roared.
Since we sailed during spring break, our ship hosted 212 cruisers younger than 18. It was good to see multigenerational families as well as parents and teens onboard. HAL lures those groups — and keeps its core cruisers — with good food.
Although we found the dining room fare hit-and-miss, meals in the specialty restaurants proved memorable, especially in Tamarind. The pan-Asian restaurant, definitely worth the $25 per person upcharge, served crunchy shrimp tempura and crispy duck appetizers as well as succulent Thai citrus scallops and other excellent entrees. David and I wished the restaurant had a branch in Washington, D.C., our hometown.
After a day onshore we came back to the ship’s Grand Dutch Cafe for its tasty Dutch apple pie and almond cookies. The eatery’s pastries as well as sandwiches, Dutch pancakes and other food were free. Cruisers pay for the coffee or any of the 16 Belgian or Dutch beers. Foodies can also indulge with cooking classes in the ship’s America’s Test Kitchen.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “If music and good meals be the food of love, cruise on.”
WHEN YOU GO
The Nieuw Statendam, the second ship in Holland America Line’s Pinnacle-class series, carries 2,666 passengers. For more information: www.hollandamerica.com