Archive for February 1, 2016

At Sea On Amsterdam, Part 2

     In addition to the main shows in the Queen’s Lounge, the Amsterdam has a number of musical groups performing in various bars & lounges.  A 3 man group called “The Neptunes” plays for dancing nightly in the Ocean bar, versatile singer-pianist-saxophonist Debbie Bacon performs nightly at the piano bar in the Rembrandt Lounge and a really talented violin-piano duo called “Adagio” plays in the Explorer’s Lounge.  The Adagios, Hungarians David & Attila, play light classics, show tunes & jazz (they are excellent improvisers).  We have listened to their 45 minute set almost every night before dinner.  The Explorer’s Lounge (there is one on every HAL ship) is a very elegant venue for interesting music.  Update:  On January 14 there was a “Jazz Night” in the Ocean Bar, in which the Neptunes really broke out & showed they were capable of first rate jazz improvisation.  This was a (pleasant) surprise to us since we had heard nothing like that when they were playing for dancing. We listened happily for an hour and a half to the Neptunes playing by themselves and with guests including clarinetist Pete Neighbor, who performed later on stage in the Queen’s Lounge, and David & Attila from Adagio

     The names of these groups are kind of a joke: most, if not all, HAL ships have a “Neptunes” & an “Adagio” duo.  On our first HAL cruise in 2012 we were entertained by the Rosario Strings (a piano-violin trio), but HAL has cut back to a duo instead of a trio on each ship (we are told it was once a quartet) and they are now required to be named “Adagio” on every ship, so that on our second HAL cruise the same pianist & violinist were now called “Adagio.”  This enforced uniformity seems pretty silly to us, but obviously we aren’t making the rules.


     The Amsterdam has two florists on staff & a refrigerated room to store flowers (which, we are told, doubles as a morgue when necessary . . . as it was one day in the South Pacific).  So the ship is full of flowers all the time.  From orchids on many of the tables in the Lido buffet to elaborate arrangements in most of the public spaces, to a small vase of flowers on the tray when you order room service, you are never far from some lovely flowers.


     Last but far from least is the food, which has been consistently delicious on this trip.  It has been great from breakfast (wonderful French Toast) to the gourmet dinners every night.  Open seating is available for the first time on a Grand Voyage, but we prefer the regular set seating with the same waiters & the same group of dinner companions every night at 8:00.  Luckily, our group has turned out to be interesting & compatible, as has happened so often before (as some of the folks reading this know from personal experience).  We were told that most passengers have opted for fixed dining.  We are seated on the upper floor of the La Fontaine dining room (again, there is one on every ship), which on this ship has a striking colored glass ceiling.  The pictures below show the La Fontaine decorated for “Black & Silver Ball” night. On gala nights Adagio plays at the top of the staircase during dinner.


     At lunch and often at breakfast we eat in the Lido buffet restaurant on Deck 8.  We always walk the 5 flights of stairs up to deck 8 to offset some of the (often excessive) calorie intake.  There is a wide variety of food available, from Asian to pizza to pasta to sandwiches & salads, to name a few.  Amsterdam has new coffee machines in the Lido (rectangular rather than round) & the coffee is much improved.  Not Starbucks, but quite a bit better than in the past.  The pizza is also much better than we have seen on other ships in the past.  Hopefully these are fleetwide improvements and not unique to Amsterdam.  Every lunchtime there is a carving station with a different kind of meat each day, & I (Rick) usually make a sandwich from that with a couple of slices of homemade bread.  There is also a sushi bar, with delicious tuna sashimi every day.  Then later in the afternoon we usually stop back for coffee & ice cream or a cookie.  No one ever starves on a cruise ship!


     There is also an upscale restaurant called The Pinnacle (you guessed it, one on every ship) where you have to pay extra to dine.  Happily, we have achieved sufficient seniority with HAL that we are charged only half price to eat there.  The food in The Pinnacle has always been a step above, and we have made reservations to eat there several times on this cruise.  Update:  Our first visit to the Pinnacle confirmed what is said above.  After consuming our crabcake appetizers, Ceasar salads prepared at the table, steaks (Rick’s a 23 oz Porterhouse) & Chocolate & Grand Marnier Volcano Cake for desert, it felt like we would not have to eat again on this cruise!


     So, enough about touring the ship, what do we do all day on a sea day?  There are a whole lot of activities on the ship but most don’t really appeal to us (such as trivia contests, lessons in dance, computers or bridge, various competitions).  We spend a lot of time reading (and one of us knitting) in the deck chairs. Although Amsterdam has a pretty good library, we have e-readers so we can carry a library in a pocket all the time.  We also attend some of the lectures & port or excursion presentations (Barbara, the travel guide on Amsterdam, who was also on the Vikings cruise with us, is particularly good). We walk around the deck every day (unless it is raining).  A mile is 3.5 times around the ship & we started at 4 laps a day & are increasing that gradually.  Then we walk up the 5 flights of steps to the Lido for lunch.  We tend to do quite a lot of walking in ports so we need to stay in shape for that (in addition to trying to avoid growing out of our clothes before trip is over). From the deck we have seen a number of interesting birds, sometimes soaring at about the same speed as the ship so they seem to be suspended in air.  One day there was a huge rainbow with a broad spectrum of colors.


     There are 14 “gala” nights on this cruise (formerly called “formal” nights) when most folks dress up & most men wear jacket & tie and many wear tuxes).  On the first gala night there was a champagne reception in the Queen’s Lounge where Captain Mercer introduced the senior staff (and the employee of the month). Captain Mercer has his own blog, which is unusual because it includes his photos from the bridge of the ship and an explanation of the navigation challenges of each port, complete with charts.


     Bringing this lengthy post to an end are some of the things we have found in our room after dinner.  Our room stewards Catur & Melpha are quite adept at making towel animals, which will be featured periodically on this blog.  And our travel agents, Cruise Specialists, gave us each a jacket & a tote bag with their special logo for this voyage, which we actually like better than HAL’s, along with a bottle of champaigne.  The next episode will (finally) be our first port.