Holland America Plans Major Fleetwide Upgrade

November 11, 2003
In a major, multi-pronged effort to upgrade onboard features, services and amenities "across the fleet," Holland America announced this week it is committing $225 million to a new "Signature of Excellence" initiative.

"Signature of Excellence" consists of over 60 different elements, all falling into four categories: Dining; Staterooms; Public Rooms; and Programs. Some, like the construction of an entirely new children's facility, are major; others, like the addition of lighted make-up mirrors, fall into the cosmetic category. Some of the enhancements -- particularly service-related initiatives like flexible embarkation and disembarkation -- are already in place while others will wait for each ship's scheduled dry-dock.

The development of "Signatures of Excellence" began back in May with a series of brainstorming sessions. Ultimately, the company talked to travel agents, past passengers and prospective ones, and conducted focus groups on the east and west coasts.

"Perhaps we haven't been seen as a company that has been willing to make significant changes," Holland America president Stein Kruse said in an interview last night with Cruise Critic. "To ensure that the premium traveler of tomorrow is attracted to us we needed to take what was good -- and make it better."

Kruse says that elements of "Signature of Excellence" are broken down, timing-wise, into two groups: "main projects" that require involve actual construction (that needs to take place when ships are in dry-dock) and "fast track" changes that handled during voyages.

In a nutshell, the "main projects" are:

The Greenhouse Spa, currently found on Zuiderdam and Oosterdam, the fleet's newest vessels, will be expanded to the Statendam- and Rotterdam-class ships. As a result of adding Greenhouse-style accouterments, such as a hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite, the spa on the Statendam-class ships will be 30 percent larger! Rotterdam-class vessels will also be expanded though not by quite that much.

Holland America's Club HAL kids program is undergoing a major evolution and newly designed facilities will be added to all ships in the fleet; details on changes to the program itself have not yet been announced. The new facilities, Kruse hastens to say, are not part of some strategic shift to become "the-family-cruise-line" but just an effort to improve on existing offerings.

The creation of the Culinary Arts Theater will transform the Wajang Theater into a "Napa Valley-style cooking school" by day, with a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen (which will be built into a stage-like setting) that will accommodate both chef demonstrations and hands-on culinary workshops. The theater will continue to host films at night.

The Sidewalk Café will be created as the result of a redesign of existing warrens of small rooms, the library, Internet Café, and card room into one large flowing area. Says Kruse, "Imagine a Barnes and Noble kind of environment, with a Starbucks-like coffee bar, areas where you can browse, listen to music, and tap into a Wi-Fi computer." The area will also be themed around destinations served by each ship so there will also be an educational component.

Ryndam is the line's first ship to get the "main project" treatment; it is slated for a two-to-three week dry-dock next autumn.

Holland America is also tweaking onboard features and these are what Kruse calls "fast track" changes that don't need to wait for the ship to go to dry-dock. Among them:

In-Cabin: All staterooms (eventually) will get an amenity makeover (though changes will occur first in suites, Kruse estimates those enhancements will be in place by spring 2004). Beds will be outfitted with 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets and plush new mattresses. Bathrooms will get massage showerheads and lighted magnifying make-up mirrors, as well as what Holland America terms (and we’re puzzled by this one) "stylish" hair dryers. All passengers will be provided with terry cloth bathrobes. In the why-did-it-take-so-long-if-HAL-is-a-premium-line category, the company will replace the existing, and tacky, plastic ice buckets with models made of stainless steel. On the suite level, additional enhancements include duvet covers on the beds, mini-bars, DVD (or VCR) players, and personalized stationary.

Dining: The Pinnacle Grill concept will be expanded fleetwide. The Lido, HAL's upper-deck casual breakfast-lunch-and-dinner buffet will get a makeover for evening dining, with the addition of waiters and a made-to-order menu option. While ships' main dining rooms will maintain the set-seating, set-tablemate tradition, actual dinner times will be staggered, offering passengers four different choices.

Activities: HAL is adding attractions at Half Moon Cay, its private island in the Bahamas. These include the construction of a new aquatic park for kids, and a “Wave Runner Park. Among other new activities are horseback riding and a stingray lagoon experience. Kruse anticipates the enhancements will be complete early-to-mid 2005.

Service. The cruise line is "tweaking" its "tipping optional" policy (which has been a long time source of confusion). "We want to make sure there is no ambiguity," Kruse says. Tipping is still a personal choice but passengers will be able to charge tips to their folio account.