(5:05 p.m. EDT) -- Holland America is debuting its new destination experience center, Explorations Central at the Crow's Nest, on Westerdam in May, before being rolled out to seven ships by the end of 2018. The Explorations Central -- EXC for short -- will feature EXC travel guides who will offer personalized advice and recommendations, plus touch tables with in-depth destination information and a virtual bridge so cruisers can see what the captain sees.
Details of Explorations Central were revealed at a media event aboard Holland America's newest ship, Koningsdam, in Fort Lauderdale.
Explorations Central will be a repository of destination content designed to help Holland America passengers to experience the ports they visit in the way they want, seeing the attractions they're interested in. The starting point of EXC will be The Hub, which will feature interactive touch table maps with unique port information, as well as the EXC Experiences desk (a rebranding of the shore excursions desk) where EXC travel guides will be available to consult with passengers.
The interactive Discovery Tables will offer destination content about each port of call, as well as interesting stories. For instance, one Rome story will focus on the botanical richness of the city, with information about the diversity of plant life in and around the city. Each Discovery Table will feature several hundred of these stories, starting with Mediterranean ports, but eventually expanding to include anywhere Holland America Line ships sail.
Across from the Discovery Tables, the EXC travel guide team will provide information about shore excursions, popular sites and inside information about where to go or what to eat for those who want a more local experience. According to Bill Prince, vice president of entertainment and enrichment, for Holland America, the EXC guides will be the heart of the EXC experience. Even with all the technology at hand, the EXC can only be as good as the guides who will be specially trained to walk passengers through creating their destination experiences.
Also, the Discovery Tables will be the Future Cruise desk for those wishing to start exploring their next destination.
Above the EXC Experiences desk, passengers will find digital displays with helpful information including the date, current and next port of call, time due back onboard, current and next day's temperature, and what language is spoke in the port of call with some suggested phrases.
EXC Talks and Encounters
At the back of the EXC will be the Theater EXC, an intimate space with a 100-inch TV screen that can be configured for a variety of activities including talks by EXC travel guides, and encounters with local cultural representatives brought onboard to introduce passengers to local music, customs and more. For instance, in the Caribbean a local Trinidadian might teach people how to play steel drums, while in Hawaii a native Hawaiian might teach people how to make a lei. The room can also be reconfigured in the round for events like book club meetings.
EXC Library and The Explorations Cafe
Throughout the EXC, passengers will find bookshelves lined with fiction and non-fiction books focusing on the ports of call for the ship's current voyage, as well as other Holland America ports of calls. Also in the library will be books exploring the history of the Netherlands, the country in which Holland America originated, as well as on maritime history.
The line's popular Explorations Cafe will have a prominent place in Explorations Central. Here passengers will find copies of New York Times crossword puzzles to solve, as well as a variety of New York Times content available for perusal on iPads. Coffee will be available during the day, while adult beverages will be offered at night.
Destination Displays and the Virtual Bridge
Two spots in Explorations Central that executives at Holland America expect to be popular are the Destinations Display and the Virtual Bridge. The Destinations Display will offer panoramic views of the most scenic ports Holland America visits, along with interactive questions of the day such as "Where have you had your best meal?" or "Where in the world would you like to go?" Passengers answer by pressing the city or country of their choice on the digital map displayed in front of them. By the end of the cruise, people will be able to see which places around the world have been the most popular with their fellow cruisers. (Holland America will also use this information to craft more niche and exclusive experiences for future cruisers.)
The Virtual Bridge will offer a peek into the type of behind the scenes information the Captain and his crew regularly use to operate the ship including ship heading, coordinates, barometric pressure, humidity, ocean depth and speed.
Starting with the Westerdam dry dock, the Crow's Nest on seven Holland America Line ships will be retrofitted with Explorations Central, but Holland America president, Orlando Ashford emphasized the changes will simply be an enhancement to the popular spot, with the same sweeping views and places to sit and relax.
Ships slated to receive Explorations Central at the Crow's Nest (in no particular order) are Westerdam, Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, Noordam, Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam and Koningsdam. It will also be aboard Nieuw Statendam when it launches in fall of 2018.
The line is also looking into how to create a smaller version of the EXC on older ships that do not have enough room for the full experience. These ships include Amsterdam, Zaandam and Volendam.
--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor