(3 p.m. EST) -- Holland America has been working overtime to attract new blood to its passenger base which has traditionally been more mature .
The line's last new-build -- Koningsdam, which debuted spring 2016 -- introduced fresh concepts like a Music Walk live entertainment space and Rudi's Sel de Mer, a French seafood brasserie. Both proved so popular they have since been rolled out to other ships in the fleet.
This week we're onboard Oosterdam, a ship that first launched in 2003, but underwent renovations in 2016 that refitted many of its bars and lounges, and updated dining and drinking concepts to bring it into a new decade. We've identified four things Oosterdam is doing to appeal to broader passenger mix -- and one or two things it could still improve.
1. Embracing Technology
There's no shortage of paper reminders and ads and hard copies of your daily cruise program, but Holland America has made strides to offer much of the same information on its Navigator app. Using the ship's intranet, you can view your itinerary, any reservations you might have booked, and a breakdown of the day's onboard activities -- even your account statement. This digital shift is reflected in improved Wi-Fi connectivity for those who chose to pay for an internet connection, as well as shipboard programming.
A Microsoft Digital Workshop has been introduced to Deck 3, and Oosterdam makes use of its instructors, offering a robust offering of daily courses (about three to four daily) on a range of topics from the Microsoft/Windows universe like storing and sharing data with OneDrive, playing with Paint 3D or becoming better acquainted with their latest operating system, Windows 10. An open Q&A with the instructors is also offered toward the end of each day, for any lingering questions.
Those used to the old-style libraries will find a reimagined reading and research space on Oosterdam's Deck 10 as part of Explorations Central. Surrounding the Explorations Cafe (and adjacent to the Crow's Nest), the space incorporates reading materials, games and workstations that you can use for exploring destinations or simply for your enjoyment.
2. Infusing Mixology
Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is known as the "King of Cocktails" and in 2016, he partnered with Holland America Line to offer his award-winning expertise. As a result, you'll now find his creative libations onboard ships fleetwide. On Oosterdam, you can sip your expertly crafted beverage in a deserving atmosphere with the addition of the whimsical Gallery Bar.
Once a tired disco, this prime real estate wedged between the casino and BB King's Blues Club is now a hip drinking den outfitted with funky art and flatscreen TVs. Mixology demos are hosted here for a nominal fee, so passengers can learn the stories behind what they're sipping. DeGroff's signature menu is a worthy companion to an intimate pre-dinner rendezvous (try Another Shade of Greyhound) or a little bonding over Monday Night Football (Hemingway Daiquiris all around), shown on just enough screens that it doesn't feel like a sports bar. Also within the Gallery Bar is Notes, Holland America's whiskey program.
3. Introducing New Dining Concepts
Not having a dedicated space for Master Chef Rudi Sodamin's grand triomphe, French seafood restaurant Sel De Mer, did not stop Holland America from sharing it with other ships. The fine dining venue is offered as a pop-up on Oosterdam, for one night only. Passengers in the know can book the experience, held in the Pinnacle Grill, for $49 per person. As the full menu on Koningsdam is a la carte, having a choice of appetizer (like the seafood bouillabaisse), entree (including Maine lobster or Dover sole) and dessert (order the signature souffle ahead of time), makes the meal a bit of a deal. It also offers more variety in dining options throughout the course of your cruise.
We noticed occasional adventurous takes in the main dining room as well, like tuna poke -- very on trend -- on a Monday lunch menu.
Outside of mealtimes, passengers can enjoy cooking demos at America's Test Kitchen (located on Deck 2 in what becomes BB King's Blues Club at night, on Oosterdam). Holland America's former Culinary Arts Center is now branded, and customized videos from the hosts of the show supplement live instruction on topics like chiles or salmon. Even Oprah is getting in on Holland America's dining scene with a segment on eating well offered onboard as part of "O, The Oprah Magazine" programming.
4. Focusing on Live Music
Music is clearly a focus of modern-day Holland America Line, and it's hard not to have a good time on Oosterdam when the dueling pianists from Billboard Onboard are belting out hits of the '60s, the band of the BB Kings Blues Club is giving everything they got to a Stevie Wonder classic, and the piano quintet of Lincoln Center Stage is proving Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is not just for rock musicians.
It might feel strange at first that the ship doesn't have a traditional nightclub, but the concept of the Music Walk, taken from Koningsdam, is that passengers can drift along the same deck, from one spectacular live show to another, ensuring a tune for all tastes and enough variety for all attention spans. Late at night, after the blues band has ended their last set, house music does take a typically sleepy ship into the a.m. However, cruisers become so spoiled by incredible in-person performances that oftentimes the recorded tracks begin to lose their shine.
A Few Caveats
While the strides Holland America is making toward rejuvenation are as clear as the wake Oosterdam leaves behind, the line still has some improvements it could make. After nearly 15 years, Oosterdam is showing more than a few smile lines. Despite the vessel undergoing refurbishments, there are still blemishes in beaten-up lounge chairs, fading paint from the trim on the lido, stained comforters creeping out beneath their sheets and some other obvious signs of wear and tear.
Service and programming distract enough from these scuffs and scratches most of the time, but we think a tad more life could be pumped into some of the newer spaces to show them off even more and reduce the time they're not being used. BB Kings does double duty as the Test Kitchen but Billboard Onboard is not living up to its potential. We were sad -- and a bit confused -- as to why karaoke hasn't been offered a single night so far. We can be sure the professional musicians do a better job, but the opportunity for passenger engagement (maybe some embarrassment) and easy fun just seems too obvious to us. Same with Gallery Bar – the ship could tie in an art gallery event or offer some daytime classes or tastings to bring more attention to this revitalized ship space.
--By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor