Theme cruising has been on the rise in recent years, and perhaps no cruise line has tapped into the trend more than Holland America’s Dancing with the Stars program.
Launched in February 2013 on Eurodam, the line features a series of dance competitions throughout the fleet, with 15 finalists selected to vie for the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. This championship theme cruise is happening right now on Nieuw Amsterdam, as the ship makes its way through the Western Caribbean.
I’m onboard with the 15 finalists and a few familiar faces, including musical performers Joey Fatone and Sabrina Bryan, TV star and fashion expert Carson Kressley and professional dancers Kym Johnson, Tristan MacManus, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater. Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, professional dancer and back-to-back champion on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, Derek Hough!
Here are a few things that surprised me right away.
The Energy Onboard. Holland America’s ships are known to draw more of a mature crowd looking for a mix of laid back and classy, who tend to wind down early in the night. But on Dancing With The Stars cruises, expect to see passengers young and old in the nightclub till 2 a.m. I felt a certain level of energy I wasn’t expecting to after only a few hours onboard.
That being said, on a Holland America’s DWTS cruise, passengers can still have that traditional cruise experience without the theme being “all up in your face.” I’ve met quite a few folks who weren’t even aware they had booked on a DWTS cruise until embarkation, and they were either pleasantly surprised or continued on with their usual routines.
Celebrity Involvement. And I don’t just mean how physically involved they are. Yes, they dance, judge, entertain and play the part… but each one is so emotionally invested in his or her roll in this program; it’s inspiring. And you can see that in the way they interact with fellow passengers freely, whether it’s on the Lido Deck during the day or dancing at night. A woman even confessed her husband’s bucket list was Kim Johnson (sharing a dance with her, of course!) She happily helped him check it off at the nightclub.
Food in the Main Dining Room. I’m drawn to cuisine that’s new and unusual, which typically lands me in specialty restaurants or in port most nights. But on my first night in the Manhattan Dining Room, I requested the chilled carrot and orange bisque and freshly caught Barramundi fish. So far, it’s been my favorite meal.
The Derek Craze. I knew it was coming but underestimated it. Forget about chair hogging in the pool area, you might have a hard time finding a seat in the Showroom at Sea when the choreographer shows up. As soon as the doors open, the crowd — which includes many families, fans of the show and “Derek groupies” — pour in, filling the room in minutes. I happened to be next to a group of women in their 70s, screaming and cheering as Derek Hough walked by before returning to their seats. It was adorable and definitely brought my back to my ‘N Sync days.
The Cruise Director. The Cruise Director on Nieuw Amsterdam, Eric Dowis, also has been judging the Guest Competition Finales on this cruise. And every time, he’s had the audience (myself, included) in tears from laughing so hard. Plus, that Arkansas accent is hard not to adore. He brings a certain kind of humor and energy to the show that seems to alleviate some of the competitive pressure. I’d pay to see him do stand-up.