Koningsdam heralds a step change in terms of technology for Holland America, with the debut of a 270-degree wraparound screen in The World Stage, the main theater found on decks 1 and 2. The shows are a mix of music, dancing and movies, but not all utilize the technology to its fullest, especially if there are guest performers. The screen does come into its own, however, with the onboard performers, in shows such as "OneWorld," "Musicology" and the screening of the BBC's "The Frozen Planet," which is accompanied by a specially composed score. Expect magic shows, tribute bands, and music and dance revues.
During the day, the venue is used for talks on forthcoming destinations.
One of Koningsdam's exciting new venues is Blend (Deck 3), in partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington State, where Holland America is headquartered. It's situated on Deck 2, on the way to the main dining room and is completely open -- both good moves by HAL as everyone on their way to eat can take a good look at passengers pouring, sniffing, swirling and blending. The idea is to take five red wines, taste them, decide which ones you like (or don't), and mix them to make your favorite blend. You even get to make up a name and design your own label, and take the bottle to dinner afterward. It's not a bad price -- $79 per person -- considering each of the five wines retails at up to $80.
A HAL mainstay is cooking demos and cocktail classes at the Culinary Arts Center (which turns into a dinner venue at night, see Dining). You can see the ship's top chefs whip up mouthwatering dishes, and occasionally catch a visiting star chef from the line's Culinary Arts Council. Charges vary by demo; pizza-cooking classes cost $29, for example.
You'll also find beer, martini and wine tastings around the ship, with prices starting at $15.
Trivia takes place most days up in the Crow's Nest, or -- in an inspiring link-up -- in the Queen's Lounge using footage from BBC Earth to supplement the questions. This is brand new to Koningsdam, but will be rolled out to other ships.
Enrichment activities are scheduled throughout the day and might include a digital workshop and tips and tricks for using your cellphone at sea.
Bridge games are held on Deck 1 in one of the board/card rooms.
There are also scavenger hunts, Ping-Pong tournaments, soccer shootouts, basketball tournaments, dance classes, a behind the scenes galley tour and poolside "name that tune" competitions.
Almost everywhere you go at night, you'll hear music. The heart of the action is on Deck 2, along Music Walk, a cluster of three different music venues (Queen's Lounge, Billboard Onboard and Lincoln Center Stage).
The B.B. King's All Stars are the resident band at the Queen's Lounge, and they play three times a night, every night, in a show called B.B. King's Blues Club. They are an outstanding band, and play a selection of classic blues numbers, as well as more popular favorites. The only aspect of the "Club" that struck us as a missed opportunity is the fact that this is not a club -- it's an open lounge that could be on any ship. The only nods to the original club are a recreation of the famous neon sign and a selection of cocktails "inspired by the Club."
Karaoke, when it's on, takes place in the Queen's Lounge, ahead of the B.B. King Blues Club performances. Dance classes also take place in here.
Billboard Onboard is a popular venue, with two grand pianos and two fine pianists playing a selection of hits from the official Billboard charts. You might be tempted to describe the pianos as "dueling," but they're not; they play in unison, complementing each other. The resident pianists are competent, but not exceptional, and their voices struggle to reach notes. It's part audience participation, depending on the night, and requests are encouraged.
You will find exquisite recitals of classical music in Lincoln Center Stage. The stage is set up, with chairs in front, but again it is not a room, but a space. Music here competes with background noise from Explorer's Bar, the Casino Bar (and casino above), the pianos opposite in Billboard Onboard and the sounds of through-traffic. However, just like with the B.B. King's Blues Band, the quality of the musicians is world class.
Though each individual venue offers fabulous music, the much-heralded Music Walk doesn't really work as a concept. The three venues are all situated close together, but there's no obvious link made between them. While the whole ship is full of music-related decor, this area is not. The open-plan venues provide no sense of atmosphere, and the noise from one venue competes with the others, not to mention the nearby bars and casinos.
Also note, the Music Walk does get crowded in the corridors, as they lead to the World Stage, but there is plenty of seating in each venue, so you'll never have to stand to watch a performance.
If you're looking for entertainment elsewhere on the ship, a wonderful pianist plays in the Ocean Bar most nights. The Lido Deck Pool screens movies most nights.
The casino on Deck 3 is relatively small for a large ship, and includes a small bar. Smoking is permitted here, but it doesn't pervade the rest of the ship, and on some nights, smoking is not allowed at all. The casino has a selection of slot machines and gaming tables, as well as regular tournaments such as Texas Hold 'em and slots.
Holland America is not necessarily known for its "party" atmosphere, but around the Deck 2 Music Walk area, you'll find plenty to watch and places to dance, drink and listen to music until the early hours.
Notes (Deck 2): This whiskey-tasting bar, marooned between the Explorer's Bar and B.B. King's Blues Club, has 129 different whiskeys on offer and a very knowledgeable whiskey "sommelier" that will suggest a blend that might suit you. There are also various herbs and spices, used to enhance your smell, as well as some rarities, including bottles for $6,000, should you feel so inclined.
Explorer's Bar (Deck 2): The bar behind the Lincoln Center Stage is a pleasant spot to watch the recitals if you can't get a seat near the stage.
Ocean Bar (Deck 2): In the atrium, on the way to the restaurants, this quiet bar hides away from all the activity on the Music Walk. It's a good spot for an after-dinner drink.
Casino Bar (Deck 3): This small bar competes with the noise of the slot machines and smoke from the casino.
Sea View Bar (Deck 9): This aft bar services the Sea View Pool. There is outside seating on this level, as well as one deck above, overlooking the pool. The designated outside smoking area is located to the right side of the bar.
Lido Bar (Deck 9): The Lido Bar services the Lido Pool area. There are plenty of chairs and tables, and efficient waiter service.
Panorama Bar (Deck 10): Probably our favorite bar for a nightcap, this bar is where the musicians and performers also come to wind down. It's open until 1 a.m. and serves a range of beers, wines and cocktails. It overlooks the Lido Deck and is a good spot to watch the outdoor film.
Sun Bar (Deck 11): This bar services the Sun Deck and has possibly the best views on the ship (with the exception of the Crow's Nest Bar), as it overlooks the wake. It's great for a sundowner at sail-away.
Crow's Nest (Deck 12): The Crow's Nest has the best views of all the onboard bars, as it's situated right at the top and the front of the ship, with windows all around.
There are just two pools: the main Lido Deck Pool on Deck 9 midship and the Sea View Pool on the same deck, aft. The Lido pool area sports a new design; it's a stunning double-deck space, which is flanked by bars and eateries, and has a retractable roof that can be closed during inclement weather. On the lower deck, loungers and chairs and tables flank the pool; on the upper deck are Miami-style sofas and beds, divided by white drapes. There are two hot tubs.
The open-air cinema (also new to Koningsdam) on the Lido Deck works really well. Grab some popcorn or nachos from the Deli, find a blanket, select a lounger and you're all set.
Children must be potty trained to use the pool, and there are no dedicated kids' pool or splash facilities.
The aft pool or Sea View Pool is adults-only in theory, though not in practice, and has lovely views of the back of the ship. It also has two hot tubs.
There is a large Sports Deck on Deck 11, which has basketball and soccer tournaments throughout the day. Deck quoits and shuffleboard can be found either side. Two Ping-Pong tables are on either side of the Lido Deck Pool. There's a promenade for walking on Deck 3.
You'll find acres of space on the Sun Deck on Deck 11, with plenty of loungers spaced about. There are hot tubs or splash pools up there. You won't find bar service on this deck -- except at the Sun Deck Bar, aft -- and in some areas you are competing with the funnel noise.
Koningsdam sees the debut of The Retreat (Deck 12), where for a fee you get to spend the day in a curtained-off deck area, where loungers are guaranteed and you can enjoy drinks, snacks, a glass of sparkling wine and a healthy breakfast and lunch. The Retreat can be booked on a daily basis ($45 on a port day or $75 on a sea day) or a weekly basis ($299), 10 days ($399) or 15 days ($499).
The card rooms are all on Deck 1 and can be booked for meetings, for example, if you are traveling with a group. Bridge takes place here every day.
The shops are on decks 3 and 4 and include a number of high-end retail outlets, selling everything from watches to handbags and jewelry, as well as duty-free shops selling cigarettes, perfume and alcohol, as well as HAL-branded goods. The onboard art gallery is among the shops.
Journeys Ashore, the shore excursions desk, is on Deck 1; Guest Services is on Deck 3, next to the future cruises sales desk. The photo gallery is on Deck 3, on the way to the dining room.
Holland America regulars who love the libraries on the rest of the fleet will be a bit disappointed to find there is no library on Koningsdam. All you will find are newspapers and large reference books in Explorations Cafe on Deck 12. This is also where you'll find a few computers where you can get online.
There is WiFi throughout the ship, but HAL has not utilized the new Internet technologies available, so as well as being pricey, the connection struggles with sites that require a lot of bandwidth. (Rates are 75 cents per minute; packages start at $55 for 100 minutes and go up to $250 for 1,000 minutes.)
There is no self-service laundry. A bag of mixed garments will cost you $30 to get cleaned by ship staff.
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon, including the fitness center, is located just off the Lido Pool Deck, and is a huge space that takes up all the front of the ship on Deck 9 and a large chunk of it on Deck 10. Its centerpiece is the thermal suite, which is arguably one of the best we've seen on a cruise ship. It costs $40 a day to get access, or you can purchase a cruise-long pass, but for that you get the following: access to the relaxation room, the ceramic lounge with heated loungers, a sauna, an infrared sauna, a steam room, an aromatherapy room, a horizontal shower (you lie on your back instead of standing up), a rain shower and a huge hydrotherapy pool, complete with jets and sprays. The steam room, sauna and lounges are all outside facing and have wonderful views.
There are 19 rooms (including two couples' rooms) offering a wide range of treatments using Elemis products. These include facials, massages and reflexology. Facials and massages start at $145 for 50 minutes. Couples massages start at $249 for 50 minutes. Medi-spa treatments include Botox, cellulite reduction programs and acupuncture treatments. The adjoining salon offers a full range of hair and beauty treatments including manis and pedis and teeth whitening, as well as men's grooming.
There are always offers on -- such as 10, 20 and 30 percent off if you book three treatments -- and various demos around the pool, as well as seminars in the meeting rooms on Deck 1.
The impressive fitness center takes up all the front of deck 9 and is accessed through the spa. The main room is huge and includes bikes, rowing machines, treadmills, ellipticals and weight machines, all with wonderful views out the front of the ship. The facility also includes a Ryde Indoor Cycling room and TRX Suspension Training room.
A variety of classes including Pilates, spinning and yoga are all offered for a fee. Yoga is $12 for 45 minutes; TRX classes are $20 per person, per hour. You can also hire a personal trainer at a cost of $85 an hour.
The fitness center also offers seminars and free sessions such as walking a mile and morning (and evening) stretch.
The jogging track is on Deck 11 as are a number of pieces of outdoor exercise equipment.
Although the kids club -- Club HAL -- midship on Deck 10 is not a huge space, compared to the more typical family-oriented lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, the area is well thought out and in a lovely spot at the top of the ship. There are lots of windows and natural light, as well as three separate, enclosed outdoor areas for kids to play -- an increasingly unusual feature on modern ships that gets a huge thumbs-up from us.
Club HAL provides supervised, stimulating activities for children ages 3 to 12, divided into two age groups with separate play areas: Kids (3 to 6) and Tweens (7 to 12). Children must be potty trained to use Club HAL facilities. A Teens club is also incorporated in this facility (see Teens, below).
Club HAL and teen activities start at 9 a.m. and finish at 11.30 a.m. They start again at 1 p.m. and go on till 4 p.m. with a three-hour break till 7 p.m. Programs also operate on port days for kids ages 3 to 12 who sign up the day before. You can leave your kids on the ship if you wish to go ashore. There are no shore excursions specifically for kids, but there are shore excursions labeled as "family friendly."
Daily programs highlighting the next day's events are on the TV in your cabin or on monitors at the club.
The ship also has a number of interconnecting cabins, as well as the line's first family cabins. Kids' programming and cartoons air on the in-cabin television on the entertainment channels.
Holland America offers special menus for kids in the Dining Room and the Lido Market. These menus include kid favorites such as hot dogs, sandwiches, lasagna, pizza, tacos, fish and chips, burgers, chicken tenders and spaghetti.
The minimum age to sail is six months. By advance request through the Line's Ship Services Department, passengers can order commercial baby food, diapers and refrigerators for a nominal fee. A limited number of high chairs, booster seats and cribs are available at no charge.
The Kids (ages 3 to 6) age group gets its own light-filled room designed in a fanciful way. Paintbrushes serve as pillars, enormous pencils adorn the wall, a paint bucket is a play area and a huge tape dispenser serves as a slide. The room has low desks and chairs, easels and coloring pens, age-appropriate toys and books, Lego blocks, window seats with scatter cushions and TVs.
Creative activities take place at art tables, and movies play on a big-screen television. Sample activities include kids' Olympics, candy bar bingo, arts and crafts, pajama parties and storytelling. There is also an outdoor, enclosed area, where kids can play safely or sit on brightly colored chairs.
Although the Tweens group covers a large age differential (7 to 12 years), the room accommodates this, with huge TVs for video games, Wii, Kinect for Xbox 360, giant beanbags, foosball and air hockey for the older kids and a play kitchen area for the younger ones. The play space offers lots of light, window seating and another enclosed outdoor area with chairs. Tweens can enjoy dance parties, deck sports, karaoke and Xbox tournaments.
Children through age 12 must be signed in and out of the activities by parents or guardians.
Free programing is generally available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on both sea and port days. There is a break for dinner and family time at 4 p.m., before games and activities start again at 7 p.m. and run to 10 p.m. Lunch is served at noon, and you must pre-request it.
Babysitting services are available from 10 p.m. until midnight during Club HAL After Hours for registered children ages 3 to 12. Cost is $5 per hour, per child. At other times and for children under age 5, limited in-cabin babysitting can be arranged during sea days. The cost is $10 per hour for the first child and $7 per hour for each additional child.
Koningsdam's Culinary Arts Center offers a special activity program designed just for kids, tweens and teens. The program teaches kids to prepare various dishes and snacks in complimentary classes lasting 45 minutes each. Classes are divided by area, so, for example, the under-8s might learn to make destination-themed cookies, ice cream sandwiches and salad people art. Children and teens ages 8 and up might make soft pretzels, granola bars, pita chips, hummus and saltwater taffy.
Teens ages 13 to 17 get their own hangout space, The Loft, also adjoining the main Club HAL reception area. The area is designed to resemble a New York artist's loft, and is an adult-free zone where teens can enjoy music, games, movies and hanging out. Facilities include Just Dance (Xbox), karaoke, foosball, a big TV screen and some smaller ones for movies and gaming, window seats and an outdoor area.
Activities during the day might include a teen cooking demonstration, volleyball, a steel drum class and mocktail mixing. At night, teens can take part in sports tournaments, quizzes and late-night soccer.
Teens may come and go as they please, choosing which activities they want to attend.