New to Statendam is HAL's Explorations activities program. This is broken down into Explorations (presentations on destinations -- including culture, shopping, wildlife and history -- led by the Travel Guide), Culinary Arts (such as cooking demos, classes on entertaining and wine tastings, hosted by the Party Planner), Microsoft Digital Workshops (courses on photo editing, blogging and creating Web pages, hosted by the Techspert) and Mind-Body-Spirit (fitness classes, lectures on wellness and trivia, hosted by the Lifestylist). Other daytime activities include bingo and bridge play, as well as the ubiquitous Park West art auctions. The computer classes get rave reviews from technology novices (classes are very basic), and one-on-one coaching is available during "Techspert Time."
The Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center is a double-duty venue on Deck 7. It houses a show kitchen where complimentary culinary demonstrations and private cooking classes (for a fee) take place. The space also serves as a movie theater, which offers multiple showings of a different film each day, complete with free popcorn.
Statendam's Showroom at Sea is a new twist on both theater seating and the productions themselves. The theater now offers tiered seating with the front rows by the stage populated with cabaret-style chairs and small tables. While the new room replaces the more traditional Van Gogh showroom, the mosaics representing Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" and his startling "Irises" remain. The new decor and carpeting incorporate the wondrous colors in those paintings and the starry night still covers the ceiling above the attractive show room.
The shows themselves have also changed. Gone are the Vegas-style, large-scale production shows that didn't work on Statendam's small stage. They've been replaced by seven new and more intimate shows, featuring an onstage orchestra, minimalist sets and a cast of singers (all of whom have previously performed on Broadway) and dancers. The idea is to present higher-quality productions that don't need to rely on the wow factor of crazy sets, costumes and technological tricks. Individual performers still do their stuff in the showroom, as well.
Deck 8 is Statendam's entertainment hub. A live band plays old favorites and dance music in the Ocean Bar, which is a fun place to strut your stuff or watch your fancy-footed fellow cruisers. The casino has slot machines and poker, roulette and blackjack tables. In general, nobody had to wait to play. Smoking is allowed in the casino.
Directly opposite the casino, Mix is Statendam's new-in-2010 primary bar area with an updated, contemporary look. The former sports and piano bars have been transformed into the Spirits & Ales bar (where an acoustic guitarist plays), the Martini Bar (where the pianist entertains) and the elegant Champagne Bar. Tables in Mix offer a variety of games -- one even doubles as an electronic keyboard.
Just down the hall, the Explorer's Lounge doubles as a daytime hangout -- for camping out on a couch or comfy chair with a book -- and an evening venue with a classical quartet and drink service. It's perfect for cocktails before dining in the adjacent Pinnacle Grill.
The Crow's Nest is the latest of the late-night venues, hosting interactive events like the Marriage Game, karaoke and Super Star Singing Competition around 9 p.m., as well as D.J. music into the wee hours. The Crow's Nest is shared by drinkers, dancers, chatters and even some late-night card- and game-players.
Many of the public rooms are close to the three-story atrium with its elaborate 26-foot-high bronze "Fountain of the Sirens" by sculptor F.W. de Vlaming. The Deck 6 atrium is an open space with some offices. Gone are the one-deck escalators from Decks 6 to 7. The Deck 7 atrium area houses the front desk, shore excursions desk and a brochure rack. Directly opposite is the photo gallery. Heading aft from the atrium, you'll find the art auction desk and two meeting rooms -- the Hudson and Half Moon rooms.
The entertainment area on Deck 8 has been opened wide to create Mix. Walls came tumbling down in dry dock to create this wonderful new free-flowing entertainment venue and an open-plan store selling jewelry (everything from costume pieces to Tanzanite), as well as purses, ties, pashminas and more expensive souvenirs. Next door, the Merabella Luxury Collection Shop was created out of an under-used portion of the Explorer's Lounge. It sells very upscale, designer jewelry pieces and watches.
Also on Deck 8, the Explorations Cafe is Statendam's library/coffee bar/Internet cafe. Wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and couches line the windows, with several tables and chairs for reading, puzzling, chatting over coffee and working on personal laptops. Computer terminals are available to guests, and the ship is also wired for Wi-Fi. Internet pricing is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy packages of 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. A $3.95 activation fee applies on the first login, and printing is available at 25 cents per print job. Explorations Café is one of the cruise industry's greatest creations -- and Holland America deserves kudos.
Self-service launderettes can be found on Decks 5, 6 and 9. Washers and dryers are available for use ($2 per wash, $1 per dry, only quarters accepted), and detergent is provided. Irons and boards are free. The laundry rooms are open 24/7; please be courteous of guests sleeping across the hall, and keep the door closed or voices low if you choose to do laundry after 10 p.m. or before 8 a.m. (I had the room across from the Deck 6 launderette, and quite a party took place there at 6:30 a.m. on sea days.)
The Medical Center is located on Deck 4.
The Greenhouse Spa, operated by London-based Steiner Leisure, the ubiquitous cruise spa company, offers a pretty standard range of treatments, such as massages, facials and body wraps. The spa features men's and women's changing rooms, a salon/barber shop and a thermal suite with heated loungers, a Turkish steam room, an aromatherapy room, a hot tub and showers. Passes to the thermal suite are available for an extra charge, and there's no free thermal time when you book a regular treatment.
The spa's beauty salon provides services that include hair cutting and styling, as well as manicures and pedicures.
The fully equipped gym has treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair-steppers and stationary bikes. A variety of weight machines and free weights is available, as are exercise balls and yoga mats. An aerobics area is kitted out with bikes for spin classes; Pilates, step and body-conditioning classes are also held there. Yoga, Tai Chi and aqua aerobics are held elsewhere as part of Holland America's wellness program and are free of charge.
Deck 12 features a jogging track and basketball and tennis courts. Ping-Pong tables are located by the main pool, and the Lower Promenade deck is the favorite place for walkers. (Four laps is a mile.)
The main pool on Deck 11 is covered by a retractable roof, so it can be used in inclement weather. A pool and hot tubs are flanked by lounge chairs, as well as tables and chairs for alfresco dining or card-playing. On the aft end of Deck 11, through the Lido Restaurant, is Lido Terrace with additional loungers. A second, outdoor, swimming pool is located one deck below on Navigation Deck aft.
Statendam actually has some very nice youth lounges tucked away behind the basketball and tennis courts on Deck 12. Four separate rooms include Club HAL for younger kids, ages 3 to 7; a separate play area for tweens, ages 8 to 12; a video arcade; and the Loft for teenagers ages 13 to 17. Steps lead from the Loft to the Deck 13 Oasis, a private sun deck for teens. Parents aren't allowed, although the area is supervised by the ship's youth counselors.
The great thing about Statendam's kids' lounges is that they're situated in out-of-the-way areas of the ship. The kids feel they have their own enclaves, and HAL guests without kids don't feel the presence of so many children. Kids are technically not allowed in the Crow's Nest and Mix at night, unless supervised by an adult, but these rules are relaxed when there aren't very many children onboard.
Counselors meet at the beginning of the cruise with parents and guardians, who must personally drop off and pick up each younger child. Structured programs are scheduled for all age levels. Kids, ages 3 to 7, can participate in activities like kids Olympics, tie-dying T-shirts, candy bar bingo, arts and crafts, pajama parties and storytelling. The 8 to 12 set has a schedule of dodgeball, swim parties and video-game play. Teens can hang out and play video games or take part in Ping-Pong competitions, karaoke and teen discos. Age-appropriate movies are shown in Club HAL, and kid-friendly cooking classes take place in the Culinary Arts Center. After-hours babysitting is available on a limited basis for an extra fee.
A children's menu is available in the Dining Room, Lido Restaurant and Terrace Grill, offering smaller portions of dishes like spaghetti, hamburgers, tacos and chicken fingers. Women who will be 24 or more weeks pregnant by the last day of the cruise are not accepted as passengers. Neither are infants younger than 6 months old. For older babies, passengers can arrange for baby food, diapers and refrigerators for an extra fee; high chairs, booster seats and cribs are available for free. Parents can play with kids younger than 3 in the children's facilities at specific times.