Because we did not WANT it to be true, we ignored reviews like this prior to our October/November 2019 Cruise on HAL Neiuw Statendam. There are many very good things about this ship and this cruise line, but this description is ONLY to give a detailed assessment about dance opportunities and conditions on board. We took a cruise on this ship six months ago and ended up a bit dissatisfied with the opportunities to dance. Nonetheless we were persuaded by the overall high standard of service, very good dining experiences, well designed staterooms, highly desirable itinerary, AND by representations from corporate management that they hoped to do better, to give Neiuw Statendam another go. This was, from a dancing perspective, a mistake; things had not improved and practices had become so ingrained that in some respects they were worse. Staff on board were unresponsive at best and dismissive on occasion. I will elaborate with specifics below, but the message for the casual reader is that if dancing on board is at all important to you, this is probably not the ship for you. Just as important, contrary to what you may recall about HAL in the past, regrettably, it gives me no pleasure to report, this is likely no longer the cruise line for you.
The old Northern Lights disco is no more on the pinnacle-class ships, and we have heard it will be disappearing in upcoming refits elsewhere in the fleet. This did not seem to us a serious loss. It was dated and poorly attended. The space is probably put to better use.
A far more serious loss is that the dancing that used to be available in Ocean Lounge is no longer an option. The dance floor on Neiuw Statendam, is a mere 3 meter circle—(no kidding!!!)--that could accommodate just two couples at most, and was idle for all 34 days of our most recent cruise. The piano on the dais, we were told, had not been played since the ship commenced operation in December 2018. A waiter even joked when we asked about the venue, "It is just a prop." Don't expect the HALkats either; they are history. Don't expect any performances by the showband in this venue or anyplace other than World Stage. Don't expect a small combo; corporate management says they are too costly and too uneven in quality to be used any more. There is what looks like a grand piano, but it could have been cardboard for all we know. You simply will no longer find opportunities for anything approaching latin, swing, or ballroom dancing before dinner or at any other time here in Ocean Lounge.
So, when and where COULD you dance and what sorts of dancing is it going to be? The core of the entertainment concept is now "Music Walk," a frankly over hyped apologia for the corporate partnerships, commercially branded, dueling piano bar; new rock music stage; and old blues club in a very elegant and functional reincarnation of the former Queen's Lounge. There is not much new here, however, except the glitz, though the musicianship is admittedly strong and the HARD, HARD (did I mention, HARD?) rock music is now LIVE; but it is so ear shattering that they had to erect glass doors to reduce bleed-over down the hall into other venues and that most patrons forget to close when passing through. Result: music salad.
There is another tiny dance floor in the Billboard on Board dueling piano bar. For most performances chairs are set up on this floor, though it can be used for dancing when the rock band is playing across the wide open hallway. Dancing to dual pianos can be challenging as there is no percussion and generally no base line to give a beat, though some songs can the followed nonetheless. Some of the performers in the piano bar are genuine rising stars, and here you will find the greatest variety of popular dance music. But it is difficult, and dancing here is high profile. You will get the feeling that you should not be dancing on the dance floor. But nobody will say anything.
Dancing in the Rolling Stone Rock Room is possible on the comfortably large oval floor, which is about 8 meters at its widest and 4 or so at its narrowest. The genres of music are severely limited to HARD rock swing (east and west coast) with the occasional Cha Cha, or possibly adapted "high speed" rumba or perhaps a rare nightclub two step. The driving beat is monotonous, and the repertoire is exhausted after two or three nights. The volume, however, can be downright painful. Many guests complained. The crowd, most of whom seem not to be regular patrons of live music, are nonetheless enthusiastic and appreciate the hard rock favorites of their youth and may find the volume a compensation as well as an accelerant for hearing loss. Dancers range from 1960s freestylers, young weight shifters (mainly women in spike heels), a few genuine swing dancers, couples in warm embrace, and loners made embarrassingly bold by alcohol.
The greatest opportunity for dancing to live music is in the BB King Blues Club with its very fine but over scrubbed 8x8 meter and padded hardwood floor. This floor is a gem and arguably one of the best at sea. The music here is a little more varied than the Rock Room. There is lots of blues and jazz improv of course, suitable especially for West coast swing, but also some East coast, with occasional cha cha, rumba, or nightclub two step. A night with one or two fox trots over the course of three sets is possible, but rare, and the dance floor, crowded with fired up free stylers in the early sets--most with little situational awareness and little inhibition--and is more likely to frustrate than please more serious dancers. Still everyone has a right to the dance floor, and not just dancers who know steps. Patrons who are tipsy and with sloshing wine glasses or beer bottles in hand are, sadly, a common sight. A grand old line like HAL might just remind you here of their parent company during some sets, though unaccompanied children are less common, but equally dangerous, as on Carnival. The less serious dancers tend to thin out in later sets. The singers are trained performers who frequently interrupt the music with rightside/leftside, complete-this-lyric, or stop-the-music-because-of-weak-response antics. It is a good show to be sure, but not so great for dancing. And, like all blues clubs, each performance will include at least one long piece of solo ad libs for each musician in the band, which is generally as undanceable as it is ubiquitous and too lengthy. This venue affords the most numerous and varied opportunities for dancers, but it couldn't lay claim—and HAL wants to do, to being a dance club. As the name implies it is a Blues Club, though ‘blues purists’ will have their own reservations.
With the obvious exception of the cha cha, Latin music, regrettably, is for the most part absent in all these venues. Salsa, mambo, samba, meringue, and bolaro rather rare. Tango (and waltzes for that matter, and of both varieties) are on the endangered species list on this ship. Argentine tango, oddly given the line's promotion of South American cruises, is apparently extinct here. But, good news, the cruise director offered a morning lesson on the electric slide, and we did observe it performed twice and led by the members of the band on the dance floor to encourage participation. That, friends, was the sole dance lesson offered in over four weeks. This on the line that just three years ago sponsored ‘Dancing with the Stars’ on every cruise. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! There is a new CEO with a different demographic in mind, and you are not it.
If you enjoy dancing, know a few steps, and especially if you recollect the very good dancing that used to be associated with this line, you will find these opportunities just tantalizing enough to disappoint. But all this is not at the core of our frustration; this has to be reserved for the dismissive attitude and trifling pretense to address our concerns from the line's Seattle management right down to on-board staff. This could be summed up as: "But we have music walk, what else could you want?" It is fine to make a conscious business decision to market to a different demographic, but suggesting otherwise and telling customers that certain pallatives are being implemented (even saying "fleetwide") and then failing to do so, is not. Here are some insights about the recorded dance music in dance venues when not in use. Music was played in the BB King area between sets, but it was almost nearly all of the very same genre that was performed there, though at a lower decibel level. And band members will often loudly rehearse over it rendering useless for dance purposes.
"Ballroom" dance was scheduled a few times. Two afternoons on the first (10 day)cruise, none on the second, and once on the third. These opportunities were always at "back on board" time, right as guests are returning from excursions. These 45-minute sessions were however frequently interrupted by lengthy and repeated public announcements seeking missing passengers, the captain's daily report detailing exactly how he planned to maneuver away from the dock, through the channel, past the breakwater, past the lighthouse, through the waves, and out to sea with nonetheless appreciated weather information. This was typically turned over to the cruise director for the inevitable and the re-re-reiteration of when towel folding seminars, acupuncture clinics, jewelry sales, and game show events would be offered. Once an interruption occurred, the music totally stopped and the song and its genre (perhaps the only one of its type) were gone and the next melody was already in progress when it started up. Ballroom dancers could reasonably expect half a dozen songs. On one occasion the session listed in the on-line program did not happen as the space had been double booked for bingo. No rescheduling, no apology, just too bad. "But hey, we have bingo and Music Walk."
Finally, there is the hopeful and welcome nightly opportunity called "Dancing to the Hits" with the DJ. You will have to stay up fairly late for this most nights, which may not be suitable if you have an early shore excursion or are over 50. The exact time varies, but 11:30 or 11:45 is typical. Requests are NOT accepted; in fact, the DJ told patrons that the playlist was set by the corporate office! There is a danceable mix of golden oldies from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, lots of Motown, and a few standards from the “great American songbook.” A waltz or foxtrot may even slip in! On two occasions, when the band had the night off, "Dancing to the Hits" was scheduled for a welcome, convenient, and popular 10pm. Unfortunately, on BOTH occasions, after half a dozen songs, the ship's official paid "pub crawl" arrived at this final of its more than twenty stops. You can imagine the state of the participants by then. They were served their final tumblers of drinks and physically literally took over the dance floor for a guys vs girls dance contest. We tried to wait this out, but the literal writhing on the floor of this irresponsible bacchanal was too disturbing to endure. So it is recommended that if you attempt to dance when it happens at 10pm, that you be there at the start because it is not going to last very long and will soon degenerate into something like a college fraternity party.
Holland American is a great traditional cruise line with many wonderful features. The staff is well-trained, eager to please, and always attentive. The dining, even in the complimentary venues, is first rate. The ship is new, well designed, and genuinely gorgeous. The itineraries are appealing and the excursions well planned and efficient. But this grand old line with a rich history of fine opportunities for dancers no longer affords them or seems to care about patrons who see them as part of the traditional cruise experience. So, if dance is important to you, think carefully about selecting this line.
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