HAL's "Signature of Excellence" Nears Completion

October 13, 2006

Holland America, which pioneered the 21st century approach to converting middle-aged ships to contemporary ones, has completed the job -- almost -- fleetwide.

Via its Signature of Excellence program (and $225 million), the line put 12 of its long-time ships, including Prinsendam, Ryndam and Statendam, through major refurbishments since 2003, which yielded not only luxurious upgrades in cabins and public areas on the ships, but new restaurants, more appealing destinations, onboard creative activities and higher levels of service to boot.

To date, the most revolutionary and successful features, not only fleetwide but also inspiring industry-wide copycatting, have been the colorful and whimsical Explorations Cafe with its cozy nooks for guests searching the Internet, using the MP3 stations or doing crossword puzzles; the Northwest-influenced Pinnacle Grill restaurant; and the Culinary Explorations program, a three-class workshop led by Pinnacle's head chef, limited to just 12 passengers.

Other lines have followed suit, most notably Celebrity, which embarked on a $55 million program to upgrade its circa 1995 Century. The additions that stand out include Murano -- a sleek 66-seat restaurant with a 1940's era charm -- and upgraded cabins. Even Holland America subsidiary Windstar is sending its ships back into refurb mode (even though they underwent a highly publicized Degrees of Difference program last October).

The irony of Holland America's revolutionary spirit is that most of the line's newest models -- Zuiderdam, Oosterdam and Westerdam, otherwise known as the Vista class -- haven't yet experienced the improvements the older ships have been treated to. But Noordam, the last in the Vista-class series, was recent enough -- and quite possibly lucky enough -- to have time for the Signature of Excellence design components to be incorporated into the ship when it was built. Within the next few years, the remaining aforementioned Vista-class ships will receive the same makeover.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor, and Erica Sapio, Assistant Editor