Holland America Line
Holland America Ships
The Elegant Explorer
OnboardOne of the nice things about Holland America's onboard ambience is that its arty, colorful ships, though all carrying an individual decorating theme, have a pleasant consistency. Holland America ships still hold onto numerous traditions -- such as afternoon tea, the (occasional) gentlemen hosts for dancing and a quaint "chime ringing" to announce dinner.
The line distinguishes itself with an eclectic yet thoughtful collection of artwork onboard, and art tours are definitely worthwhile. Self-guided iPod tours are even available. The devices can be borrowed from each ship's Explorations Cafe.
The line was a pioneer in introducing the alternative restaurant concept with the introduction of Odyssey Restaurant onboard the Rotterdam. These days, the concept has evolved, and the line's signature restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, is in place, fleetwide, as the alternative dining venue. The Pinnacle Grill is a reservations-only venue with a $10 cover charge for lunch and a $25 charge for dinner. The atmosphere is elegant, and the menu features meat and seafood dishes with a Pacific Northwest theme. The line's newest vessels, Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, introduced Tamarind, an Asian specialty restaurant featuring fee-free Dim sum and $15 dinner.
Holland America has long been one of the more traditional cruise lines when it comes to main restaurant dining, but it does now offer passengers more flexibility with "As You Wish" dining. It works like this: One level of the ships' two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional, early (5:45 p.m.) or main-seating (8 p.m.) while the other is open from 5:15 to 9 p.m. daily. (Breakfast and lunch are already open-seating.) Passengers opting for open-seating can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.
Holland America recently added the Master Chef's International Dinner option in the main dining room. The menu is free and offered once a cruise and features cuisine from six continents crafted by the line's Master Chef. Passengers can design their three- or four-course meal by choosing each course from a menu of 20 selections that represent a variety of cultures.
Evening entertainment, consistent with the Holland America experience, is fairly understated with pre-dinner cocktails generally being the liveliest time. However, there are numerous entertainment options, from disco-style dancing in the Crow's Nest and flicks in the cinema to Vegas-style revues in the main theater.
About Holland America LineIf you had to pick one word to describe the Holland America Line, that word would be "venerable." The line is arguably the most historic and tradition-laden on the seas. Its first ship, the 1,684-ton Rotterdam, set sail on a voyage between Holland and New York in 1873, and today, HAL ships sail all around the globe.
The line was originally named the Netherlands-America Steamship Company, but soon became known as the Holland America Line because it carried great numbers of immigrants from Holland to America. The company concentrated on the transatlantic passenger trade, as well as on commercial freight shipping until the 1970's. Its first purpose-built passenger ship was constructed in 1973, and since then, the line has concentrated on cruise vacation travel.
In 1978, Holland America moved its headquarters from Rotterdam to Stamford, Connecticut. The company's headquarters then moved to Seattle, Washington in 1983, in order to consolidate operations with Westours, an Alaska tour company in which Holland America purchased a controlling interest. In 1988, Holland America purchased Windstar Cruises, operator of four- and five-masted, computer-guided sailing ships. It ultimately sold Windstar to a smaller ship operator.
One year later, the behemoth Carnival Corporation acquired Holland America Line, which remains headquartered in Seattle.
Holland America may now be a U.S.-based cruise line, but it continues to maintain strong ties with its Netherlands heritage. Ships in its fleet -- since the 1890's and continuing today -- bear the suffix "dam." Most of the names are inspired by actual dams that traverse the rivers of the Netherlands. In other cases, such as with its Vista-class of ships, the names represent points of the compass (Oosterdam is East, Westerdam is West, Noordam is North, etc.). Many of the names are in their fourth, fifth or sixth incarnations. Eurodam was christened in Rotterdam in 2008 by none other than the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix. Nieuw Amsterdam, HAL's newest offering, was christened in 2010 by the Netherlands' Princess Maxima, marking the 11th time a member of the Dutch Royal family served as a HAL godmother.
While HAL has been committed to expanding its fleet with new tonnage, Nieuw Amsterdam is the last new-build until a 99,000-ton, 2,660-passenger prototype debuts in late 2015. That said, the line is committed to regularly updating and upgrading existing ships via its $525 million "Signature of Excellence" initiative, which focuses on enhancement in the areas of accommodations, public rooms, dining, service and enrichment programs.
Improvements have included an early embarkation program that allows guests to board as early as 11:30 a.m., new culinary arts centers for cooking demonstrations and classes, table-side waiter service in the ships' casual Lido Restaurant, exclusive "Medallion Shore Excursions" in exotic destinations like Asia and Africa, an expanded "Speakers Program," new Greenhouse Spas with exclusive treatments in thermal suites and hydro pools, the "Explorations Cafe" (which also serves as a multidimensional venue for onboard programming), 24-hour concierge service for suite passengers and more extensive youth programs.
Since early 2009, Veendam (March 2009), Rotterdam (November 2009), Ryndam (February 2010), Statendam (March 2010) and Maasdam (April 2011) have all undergone extensive dry docks as part of the program. New cabins were added, including balcony accommodations, spa staterooms large enough for in-room treatments and "lanai" rooms. (Note: Only Veendam, Rotterdam and Maasdam got the Lanai cabins.) The Retreat, an adults-only pool, was also added to each, along with a new lounge called Mix that is made up of three specialty bars.
Holland America Line FleetEditor's Note: In October 2012, the line announced that it had signed an agreement with Italy's Fincantieri to launch a 99,000-ton, 2,660-passenger ship in fall 2015.
While Holland America offers many consistent features across the fleet, its 15 ships do offer varied onboard ambiences.
First up are HAL's pair of Signature-class ships: Eurodam (launched July 2008) and Nieuw Amsterdam (July 2010), which carry 2,104 passengers. Both ships were inspired, in large part, by the Vista-class' designs, but they have plenty of extras, too. Among the highlights: an Asian-themed restaurant called Tamarind and 56 spa cabins that are close to the Greenhouse Spa and boast a zen decor.
The contemporary Vista-class of vessels represented an evolution for Holland America when it was first introduced. The first in the 85,000-ton, 1,848-passenger group of ships was Zuiderdam, which entered service in 2003. Oosterdam debuted in 2003, followed by Westerdam in April 2004 and Noordam in March 2006. Highlights of the Vista-class ships include ocean views in 85 percent of the staterooms and verandahs in 67 percent of the staterooms; each stateroom is also equipped with a data port connection. The ships feature nifty, glass-walled exterior elevators that ascend up 10 decks and provide fabulous panoramic views. The alternative restaurant, spa, entertainment lounge, penthouse verandah suites and Internet cafe on the Vista-class ships are larger than those on older ships in the Holland America fleet. There are also extensive Club HAL children's play facilities on all Vista-class ships, though these should not be compared -- neither in size nor in depth of program -- to seriously family-friendly lines.
The fleet's older ships -- much more midsized, measuring approximately 60,000 tons and carrying 1,258 to 1,432 passengers -- may lack the higher balcony ratios of its newer brethren, but they're among the sweetest ships afloat. They include Rotterdam-class vessels, such as Volendam and Zaandam, which debuted in 1999 and 2000, respectively, and feature a convenient third staircase for easier access to public rooms, a very spacious and well-equipped gym and more of the popular "verandah suites" (168) than any other Holland America ship.
Rotterdam-class vessels also include the line's two flagships -- the 1,316-passenger Rotterdam and the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam, built in 1997 and 2000, respectively. (Both ships are approximately 60,000 tons.) As flagships, Rotterdam and Amsterdam were designed to show off Holland America at its best -- and most opulent. They are the most posh ships in the line, decorated with dark woods, ornate dining facilities, elaborate atriums and the impressive, original artwork that is the line's hallmark. Constructed for longer trips, the ships carry passengers on numerous Grand World Voyages.
Statendam-class ships include Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam and Veendam. These four vessels entered service between 1993 and 1996. The ships were ordered not long after Carnival Corporation bought Holland America. Since Carnival didn't want the Holland America ships to compete as heavily with its own Carnival Cruise Lines, the Statendam ships were kept to a more modest size: 55,000 tons and 719 feet in length with a passenger capacity of 1,260 to 1,350. It's a nice configuration that feels more spacious than other mid-sized ships. The Statendam-class ships feature two-level dining rooms and large atriums. Statendam and Ryndam were also the first to get the Pinnacle Grill restaurant in 2002 before it was rolled out to the rest of the fleet in 2003.
All eight older ships have now been upgraded with "Signature of Excellence" enhancements, and all offer the Explorations Cafe, culinary arts center, Eurotop mattresses, upscale bedding, massage showerheads, lighted makeup mirrors, salon-style hairdryers and expanded children's and teen's centers (found on the newer Vista- and Signature-class ships). Since early 2009, the four Statendam-class ships have received even more extensive upgrades, including an adults-only pool area called The Retreat, spa staterooms, a new bar called Mix and an outdoor LED screen for alfresco movie-watching.
Unique in its own right is Holland America's Prinsendam. Holland America purchased the 793-passenger ship in 2002. Built in 1988, it was originally called Royal Viking Sun and later became Seabourn Sun. Holland America dubbed the ship its "Elegant Explorer" and is now utilizing it primarily for longer sailings. Although Holland America has updated the ship, Prinsendam still has an old-world feel with lots of dark woods and brass accents. But it also has plenty of modern amenities, including a nicely equipped Internet cafe with wireless access in hot spots throughout the ship and a small but lovely Pinnacle Grill Restaurant.
Another plus: Prinsendam offers a refreshing diversity of cabins, many of which, constructed before the pre-fabricated era, are unique in size and shape.
Fellow PassengersHolland America has long had a reputation for catering to a well-heeled but somewhat traditionally minded crowd. Perhaps that's due to the line's insistence on maintaining its traditions with set-seating dining, elegant afternoon tea, ballroom dancing and on-ship tennis courts. But Holland America is also making an effort to entice a younger, hipper customer base by integrating some of cruising's most important new features, such as Internet cafes with wireless access, alternative boutique restaurants, concierge service for upper-level accommodations and indoor-outdoor pools for year-round use. Camp HAL has also been upgraded to meet the needs of younger families with children -- especially during summer sailings to Alaska and the Caribbean and on weeklong (as opposed to two-week-plus) voyages. Although Holland America is not likely to rival Disney for the breadth and depth of its programs, most of the ships offer Club HAL children's programming, particularly during the summer and other school holiday periods.
The Club HAL programs are divided into three age groups: 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. All of the ships now have expanded children's facilities, dedicated teen lounges and parent-free zones with computers, conversation areas and gaming stations. Teens can take advantage of these spaces, which bear names like The Loft and The Oasis and have themes to match.
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