If Entertainment and Covid seems an odd title, it is unfortunately fitting. We first suspected that something was going on when the entertainment we could see scheduled out days ahead started changing.
We had gone through pretty rigorous requirements to get on the ship including vaccinations and boosters, a Covid test a few days prior and then one more surprise test before we boarded. Signs all over the ship indicated wearing masks was recommended and many passengers did. The ship’s crew always wore masks. Cleaning measures were evident everywhere.
Yet, about a week into our cruise passengers received a letter saying that Covid was on the ship and involved a small number of passengers and crew. They indicated contact tracing had been done and all involved people were in quarantine.
So, given the addition of Covid, the changing entertainment schedule made sense. However, the musicians and entertainers covered and modified their programs and schedules. There was only one night in 21 that we had nothing to see on the main stage.
Shows included the ship’s featured dancers who integrated the circular stage with surrounding screens and lights so well! The dancers did three shows in repertoire and we saw each of them over the course of our lengthy cruise. Unfortunately, no photographs allowed.
We also had shows by The Runaround Kids featuring 50s and 60s music. They were excellent, even missing one band member who had been delayed. The missing musician eventually made it on board and we enjoyed their second show as well.
World renown pianist, Tian Jiang, entertained us first in a solo performance and later in a concert including a few of the ship’s musicians. It is common for performers such as Tian Jiang to sign on for a cruise or two to provide entertainment.
The ship’s resident musicians, in four different groupings, work along the Music Walk. Three venues along the “walk” rotate their 30 minute shows each night and are rarely competing against each other.
We went to Billboard Onboard a few times. It featured two pianists doing shows like Never #1 – a playlist of songs we all know well, but never made it to number one in the charts. Across the hall was the Rolling Stones tribute band which was not our favorite.
We went to BB Kings Blues Club a lot – the timing of their shows typically was right after the main stage show finished and it was a natural fit. Over the course of 21 days we saw some of their sets multiple times. There were usually 6-7 people on stage and a variety of passengers dancing.
Sharing the same space as the BB Kings Blues Club was the Lincoln Center Stage. Watching the transformation from one venue to the other was also interesting.
The classical music quartet playing on the Lincoln Center Stage became one of Randy’s favorites and he could often be found there in the late afternoon.
The Lincoln Center Stage players featured a piano, viola, cello and violin. They also accompanied main stage productions of BBC Earth in Concert. These shows were spectacular with visual beauty on the many screens of the main stage and the group’s music accentuating the show.
Randy went to a “meet the artists” talk for the Lincoln Center Stage group where they told about their process of coming to the Nieuw Statendam. Musicians sent in audition tapes to Holland America from all around the world. Some were selected to gather in New York City for auditions. Those that were selected to be ship musicians were then put into groups. They spent a couple weeks together learning the programs that are played across the Holland America fleet.
The four that became the Nieuw Statendam classical musicians did not know each other prior to being chosen to play together. The pianist is from Israel, the viola player is from Finland and the other two are American. Although we don’t know for sure, we assume the assemblage of dancers and musicians for the other entertainment venues was similar.
We enjoyed almost all of the ship’s entertainment – there was a soprano and an illusionist that didn’t do it for us but that was a result of our taste, not a lack talent on their part. But there was one thing we missed.
Every other cruise we have been on had a prominent piano bar experience. The late afternoon drinks in the piano bar have been memorable on so many of our previous trips. I discovered chocolate martinis in one of those piano bars! That just didn’t happen with regularity on this ship, or when a session was scheduled, it interfered with early seating dinner in the dining room.
We had appreciated the move by cruise lines to adopt anytime dining – where you go eat where you want when you want. That sounds good in theory but if everyone else wants to go to the dining room at 6:30 there is a line to contend with and you take what you get regarding sitting alone or with others.
Meeting others over a meal used to be enjoyable but in a Covid world we were hesitant. We were also hesitant because of “old white guy syndrome” that illusion that everyone wants to know what they think about everything – including US politics in the middle of the dang Atlantic Ocean. We wanted to avoid that situation so we always requested a table for two. (Others were avoiding it too because tables for eight gradually became the guy and his wife sitting alone at a large table.)
The alternative to anytime dining is to make a reservation or have early or late seating at a specific table with consistent waiters. About halfway through our cruise we made a reservation and happily landed at Anthony and Loki’s table. We enjoyed them very much and decided to switch to early seating at one of their tables every night going forward. It became something to look forward to.
Anthony (center) is a Holland America Cruise Line veteran waiter and has decades under his belt. We are going on another cruise on the Nieuw Statendam later this year and will request early sitting dining at one of his tables.
Loki has many fewer years in service but is wonderful and engaging. It was so interesting to learn about his family and how they manage his time away on contract. His wife and two children live in an area with extended family support and Loki is able to FaceTime with his kids at the conclusion of his day which is the beginning of their day. Face time, or similar, is such a great option for a dad trying to keep in contact with his kids.
Of course, as the ship changes locations, Loki’s time to contact his kids changes. From the Caribbean towards the Mediterranean, we “lost” an hour every other day. That had little effect on our relaxed sea day routines but did impact our sleep.
Our Phoenix Suns, as well as the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks were also entertainment of interest and, depending on where the games were played and how far across the Atlantic we had traveled, the radio cast was anytime from late in the evening to the middle of the night to very early the next morning. Several times one of us would wake up in the middle of the night, check a score, and be awake for hours. They were sea days – it worked.
Our middle of the night listening had to change when we started having port days. Next blog – Our first port in the Azores.