Holland America has a reputation for drawing an older demographic. The cruise line's fleet of 14 ships is smaller than that of many other lines, and it forgoes modern bells and whistles -- like water slides, climbing walls and ropes courses -- in favor of sleek vessels heavy on wood, brass and glass accents. Then there's the length of the line's cruise itineraries, which generally range from at least a week to much longer. Many retirees can afford both in terms of time and money, but they're difficult for other travelers to swing.
Don't be fooled by reputation, though. The cruise line's newest ship, Koningsdam, which debuted in April, will appeal to anyone who likes an entertaining, refined vacation experience. That's something HAL president Orlando Ashford firmly believes. He prefers to talk about the line's psychographics (what people enjoy, or their mindset) as opposed to demographics. While the line doesn't call Koningsdam its flagship, its best features are being rolled out to other ships in the fleet as part of a $300 million refurbishment investment.
We're onboard Koningsdam, which is making its North American debut with a rare four-night sailing, to see just what makes this ship so special. Here are five reasons you'll love Koningsdam, regardless of your age.
1. The Music
The performers on Koningsdam put on the best production show we've seen this year. The ship's "Off The Charts: Billboard Hits Rewind" cleverly mixes modern and decades-old No. 1 hits with creative arrangements and spectacular dancing. All this is done in the ship's World Stage theater in the round, where seats surround the circular theater on all sides, and the walls are digital screens that contribute to the show. Production shows there are consistently excellent.
But that's not even the best music onboard. The ship has a Music Walk on Deck 2, where you can wander among three venues and take in a variety of performances at B.B. King's Blues Club, Billboard Onboard or the Lincoln Center Stage. (This concept is being rolled out on other ships, as well.) Passengers in their 20s to late 70s consistently packed the venues. We couldn't help but sing along at the Blues Club, where the dance floor was busy until 3 a.m. The Billboard experience puts two pianists literally at center stage, surrounded by a bar, while performers play various shows and occasionally take requests. Our favorite, though, was the string quintet that performed classical and modern hits nightly at the Lincoln Center Stage. It's not as raucous as the other performances, but the musicians know how to capture the audience, with arrangements of Bernstein, Michael Buble and even Radiohead. This ship is a music-lover's dream.
Ashford says the intention is to "take what we've always done and elevate it," adding, "We're on the path toward awesome with entertainment."
2. The Specialty Restaurants
On ships that sail longer itineraries, dining variety makes the journey that much better. You could happily eat in The Dining Room or the Lido Market Place, the ship's main and buffet dining venues, every night, but you'd be missing out on some lovely experiences. Worth noting is French venue Sel de Mer, a restaurant heavy on seafood prepared in innovative fashion. Dishes there are priced a la carte, which could add up quickly, but it's worth a splurge if you adore seafood. (Don't worry, nonfish-eaters: This restaurant offers a few dishes for vegetarians and meat-lovers, too.) Sel de Mer is exclusive to Koningsdam.)
The biggest bargain onboard is the Culinary Arts Center, a restaurant that takes the wildly popular farm-to-table concept to the high seas. There, passengers dine and get a few lessons in culinary execution, thanks to an open kitchen, mic'ed-up chefs and overhead cameras that capture every whisk and stir. Cruisers are encouraged to approach the chefs, take pictures and ask questions during the preparation. For $39 per person, passengers are treated to a delicious multicourse meal along with a variety of organic wines. At the end, passengers can take home their favorite recipes.
Other specialty restaurants include Asian-fusion venue Tamarind, which benefits from a brilliant partnership with sushi chef Andy Matsuda ($25); Italian venue Canaletto ($15); Pinnacle Grill steakhouse ($35); Dive-In burger joint; and New York Pizza & Deli.
3. The Cabins
For the most part, cabins, though tight, feel roomy, thanks to the smart use of space, which includes things like his and hers closets, drawers, and underbed and overhead storage. Like many modern ships, Koningsdam includes great touches like in-shower shaving bars for women, multiple outlets and USB ports (including several bedside) and flat-screen TVs with free on-demand TV and movies. But what we love about the cabins is the variety, which includes 12 ocean-view cabins designed for solo travelers, as well as 32 ocean-view family cabins that each can accommodate up to five people.
The suites are worth mentioning, as they come with a boatload of space and perks, such as personal concierge service and a variety of in-suite services.
4. The Sophisticated Outdoor Spaces
The ship's refinement is best seen in its outdoor spaces, especially those on and surrounding its lido deck. Holland America clearly thought of every detail when it came to designing the space, which includes padded loungers, sunbeds, tables and couches. Gauzy curtains provide privacy when required, and shady and sunny spots are abundant. It even has a magrodome that can be closed when weather isn't ideal. We loved spending time in the area, which never felt overcrowded or noisy. Yet people clearly enjoy the space, flocking to the sunbeds and lounge chairs, especially on sea days. One tiny gripe: There aren't many loungers, and if you don't arrive early on sea days, chances are, you'll end up sitting on a couch or at a table.
Holland America has mastered the aft pool concept; the version on Koningsdam is probably the best in the fleet. There, you'll find more quiet space, additional loungers and seating areas where you can chat, play games or simply enjoy a meal or snack from the adjacent Lido Market.
5. The Spa and Fitness Center
Koningsdam's fitness center offers an exceptional range of equipment, including cardiovascular and weight machines along with free weights and even a Smith machine for barbell work. The ship also offers a number of classes (for a fee), including TRX and uber-trendy Ryde, a spinning-style session that puts passengers wearing heart-rate monitors and cycling shoes on stationary bikes, then displays their "work output" on a digital screen. The concept has passengers pushing themselves harder while politely competing against one another. While this class was offered multiple times on our sailing, it was full every time. The gym, too, is well used.
The spa onboard is fairly standard, offering a variety of massages, facials and the like, but what feels extra special is the thermal suite, which is available for $40 a day or for a discount if you buy a full-cruise pass. The suite includes ceramic lounge chairs, a horizontal shower, ice-water dump buckets (to use as part of a hot/cold treatment), an infrared sauna and a gorgeous steam room with ocean views. The best part, though, is the large circular thalassotherapy pool, which includes bubbly body massagers and sparkly overhead lights for nighttime. The quiet space is a beautifully peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the ship.
--By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor