Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Luxury Mediterranean Cruise Experience on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam

When it was suggested to go on a 12 day Mediterranean cruise I agreed with some reluctance thinking this was the start of the slow, downward spiral into old age and retirement. I had frightening visions of me sitting out on the aft deck of the ship in a large wicker chair covered with a tartan blanket and sharing relentless, boring evenings with groups of crusty old folks around a dinner of average buffet style food and embarking on numerous organised coach tours with inane commentary by some local flag waving tour guide as he guided us through the touristy spots at the various destinations.

I was sadly to be mistaken in my perceptions of cruising and as soon as we boarded the ms Nieuw Amsterdam in Venice on 8th June 2013 my view was to take a very different turn. The ship was magnificent, one of the latest ships in the Holland America line and every portion of the vessel was immaculate and well thought out. With a total passenger capacity of 2111 and a crew of 888 this was not a small ship and with 12 floors and numerous elevators it was like a small city.

Our first port of call once boarded was to find our cabin …. or rather I should say our Stateroom …. in the maze of corridors on each level. The Stateroom was spacious and extremely comfortable with a beautiful large balcony giving us a wonderful view over the port side of the ship. With a king-sized bed and ample cabinets and wardrobes the room was extremely well appointed and the bathroom had a bath and shower and was again very well laid out.


Taking a walk around the decks of the ship made me realise just how big this ship was with a large swimming pool and jacuzzis midships and another large pool at the stern of the ship. It had numerous decks with chairs and loungers where you could park yourself for the day. There were also table tennis tables on the side decks and a volleyball/tennis court at the top deck. The video below gives you a feel of how big the ship was as I walked around the upper deck.

Video of walk around the upper deck on ms Nieuw Amsterdam

Midships Swimming Pool

Stern Swimming Pool
Basketball and football court

Down on deck level 3 you could take a complete walk around the ship which was good if you liked to walk or jog and I believe each lap was about 1/3rd of a mile. I did 15 laps one morning just in a vain attempt to get rid of the excesses of food and drink during the cruise …. sadly didn't manage it again!

Deck Level 3

Top Deck looking aft

The Bridge

The Nieuw Amsterdam had numerous restaurants, cafes and bars so there was no lack of choice for dining or having a drink. The Lido Restaurant was the general restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from a number of food stations and offering an incredible variety of high quality food. A more formal restaurant for breakfast and dinner was the Manhattan Dining Room which had impeccable service and an extensive wine menu. The top restaurant onboard was the Pinnacle Grill which was a reservation only dining room with elegant, sophisticated dining with specially selected wines. Other restaurants included the Tamarind Restaurant serving pan Asian style food and the Canaletto Italian Restaurant. There was a total of around 12 bars so no need to get thirsty - our favourite was the Silk Den Bar which offered great views and intimate seating with an Asian theme. The Piano Bar was great in the evening with the resident pianist playing many old favourites to sing along with. If you had a gambling desire there was also a large casino. There was a large duty free shopping area which opened when we were offshore and this seemed to be very strategically positioned on the way to the main restaurants so you couldn't help but have to walk through.

Silk Den Lounge Bar

Tamarind Restaurant

Tamarind Restaurant

Entrance to the Silk Den Bar Lounge

Midship Atrium

The Manhattan Dining Room

The Manhattan Dining Room

Dining at the Manhattan Dining Room

Menu at the Manhattan Dining Room

The staff at the Manhattan Dining Room sing to us on the last day

Pinnacle Bar

Pinnacle Grill 
Piano Bar

The Casino

In the evening you could experience West End standard entertainment in the Showroom at Sea which was a large theatre in the bow of the ship. The shows we saw were all excellent and the theatre was very comfortable with large leather seats and excellent audio and video projection facilities.

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

Showroom at Sea

There was a large, well fitted out gym on board and extensive spa facilities at the Greenhouse Spa and Salon.


There was even Photo studio with resident photographers so passengers could purchase photographs (albeit at a very high price) taken at the various events or get a special portrait shot created.

Photo Studio

Life on board was extremely comfortable and the quality of food and level of service was really 1st class. From the ship we had commanding views as we left or arrived at the various ports and just sitting on our balcony as we cruised was a very relaxing pastime. One of the most unique views from the ship I think was either the view of Venice as we sailed away or the view over the iconic Monte Carlo harbour from the high deck. There were numerous organised tours at each port or you could just decide to do your own thing. The organisation at each port was really well done and on return to the ship there was always a large canopy with cold towels and cold water to greet us.

Aft view from ms Nieuw Amsterdam at sea between Corfu and Naples

At sea on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam

ms Nieuw Amsterdam departing Venice, Italy

ms Nieuw Amsterdam at dock in Dubrovnik, Croatia

At dock in Dubrovnik, Croatia
View over Monte Carlo from the ms Nieuw Amsterdam 

Departing from Naples with Mt Vesuvius in view
At dock in Corfu, Greece

Cold towels and water as we arrive back to the ship after visiting Monte Carlo

Panorama view over Monte Carlo harbour with the ms Nieuw Amsterdam at dock

View over Monte Carlo harbour with the ms Nieuw Amsterdam at dock
I would highly recommend this type of cruise and the standard of food, service and entertainment on the Holland America cruise went far beyond my expectations. We travelled with a group of good friends which was also an advantage as we could all tour the cruise destinations together and also meet together for dinner in the evening. However if someone wanted to do a different tour or activity then that was an option so we were not tied to being together al the time as a group.

I will be back …. and perhaps in many years to come I may well be one of those old crusty folks sitting in the wicker chair with my tartan blanket over me …. can't think of a better way to while away the last few years being waited on hand and foot and being served top quality food and drink. This could be the ideal way to spend the last days of your retirement …. sell up everything ….. check into a nice luxurious Stateroom …. and cruise non-stop. You have all the best food, great service, entertainment, meeting new and different people, visiting numerous ports and countries, plus the bonus of having the onboard medical facilities …. and when I do eventually pass away … then simply slip me over the side!

Video Slideshow

Part 1

Part 2

Cruise Log and Ship Facts

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Where Science & Religion Meet

The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is a titular basilica church in Rome, built inside the frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica. I stumbled upon this church by chance and although it looks fairly ordinary from the outside the inside of the church holds a most fascinating feature which I have not seen before. On the floor of the church is a long meridian line and along with a unique small hole high on the internal wall of the church, which allows the sun to shine, this forms a kind of sundial to measure the sun's meridian crossing as well as the passage of the stars.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Pope Clement XI commissioned the astronomer, mathematician, archaeologist, historian and philosopher Francesco Bianchini to build a meridian line, a sort of sundial, within the basilica. Completed in 1702, the object had a threefold purpose: the pope wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the calendar, to produce a tool to predict Easter exactly, and, not least, to give Rome a meridian line as important as the one Giovanni Domenico Cassini had recently built in Bologna's cathedral, San Petronio. Alan Cook remarked, "The disposition, the stability and the precision are much better than those of the famous meridian... in Bologna".

This church was chosen for several reasons: (1) Like other baths in Rome, the building was already naturally southerly oriented, so as to receive unobstructed exposure to the sun; (2) the height of the walls allowed for a long line to measure the sun's progress through the year more precisely; (3) the ancient walls had long since stopped settling into the ground, ensuring that carefully calibrated observational instruments set in them would not move out of place; and (4) because it was set in the former baths of Diocletian, it would symbolically represent a victory of the Christian calendar over the earlier pagan calendar.

Bianchini's sundial was built along the meridian that crosses Rome, at longitude 12° 30' E. At solar noon, which varies according to the equation of time from around 10:54 a.m. UTC in late October to 11.24 a.m. UTC in February (11:54 to 12:24 CET), the sun shines through a small hole in the wall to cast its light on this line each day. At the summer solstice, the sun appears highest, and its ray hits the meridian line at the point closest to the wall. At the winter solstice, the ray crosses the line at the point furthest from the wall. At either equinox, the sun touches the line between the these two extremes. The longer the meridian line, the more accurately the observer can calculate the length of the year. The meridian line built here is 45 meters long and is composed of bronze, enclosed in yellow-white marble.

In addition to using the line to measure the sun's meridian crossing, Bianchini also added holes in the ceiling to mark the passage of stars. Inside the interior, darkened by covering the windows, Polaris, Arcturus and Sirius were observed through these holes with the aid of a telescope to determine their right ascensions and declinations. The meridian line was restored in 2002 for the tricentenary of its construction, and it is still operational today.