Holland America Line

Company Overview Holland America's launched its first ship, the 1,684-ton Rotterdam, in 1873. Ever since, for over 130 years now, the company has had one of the most recognizable names for quality in running ocean liners in the world.

When Holland America assembled its first purpose built "cruise ship" in 1973, the company knew that the one thing it had going for itself was reputation. Thus, the Holland America motto, "Tradition of Excellence" has been smartly embraced to this day, enabling them to associate their name with professionalism and tradition in the passenger shipping business.

Like so many other successful cruise lines these days, Holland America is now owned by Carnival Corporation, having been acquired in 1989. It is important to note that of the two large megolithic cruise corporations with several brand names under their respective umbrellae, Carnival Corp. is the one with the reputation for having more of a "hands-off" policy when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the various cruise lines within their aegis.

Carnival has been largely respectful of Holland America Lines' tradition. Meanwhile, with the help of Carnival financing, the fleet has grown dramatically in the past decade-plus to 14 ships now, including Rotterdam VI (the company uses the same names over and over as it retires and builds new ships). The next Nieuw Amsterdam will debut on July 4, 2010, almost exactly two years to the day since the last ship, Eurodam, entered service.

Eurodam represented the finest Holland America ship to date with the beautiful decor andthe best combination of features combined from all the other ships (see the cruise ship review for Eurodam).

All of the ships built for the current Holland America Fleet are fairly new, at least in style, the actual oldest being the Statendam built in 1993. This was the first of the S-class ships, all built under the tutelage of Carnival Corp. With wonderful art collections, abundant polished marble, and sumptuous fabrics, the nearly identical 1,258-passenger S-class ships (Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam and Veendam) have continued the company's tradition of evoking the grand old liners of yesterday.

Public rooms on all the Holland America ships, the Ocean Bar and Explorers Lounge are also present and accounted for. Covered promenade decks encircle the entire ships, which also offer a large Lido pool with a retractable dome and a "Crow's Nest" observation lounge. Spacious accommodations are 85 percent ocean view, with 80 percent of those having verandahs. Numerous dining options are offered, from elegant full-service to casual Lido Restaurant service.

When it came time to create something a little more upscale, the line choose to re-birth the flagship name, Rotterdam (1997), but for the most part the only difference between it and the previous S-class ships was additional lounges, and a third bank of elevators, and Holland America's first Alternative Restaurant.

Beginning with the Zuiderdam in 2002, the line quickly embarked on building a whole new fleet of vessels called the V-ships (followed by the Westerdam, Oosterdam, and Noordam). Improvements to these vessels (which still strongly resemble merely beefed up versions of the S-class ships) includes a three-deck main show lounge, Internet/e-mail data ports in all staterooms and external glass elevators on both sides of the ship. They all have alternative restaurants serving Pacific Northwest cuisine. Three of them have a Pinnacle Grill Bar and an expanded Explorations Cafe built into the Crows Nest. They also have 34 additional cabins. The Oosterdam is set to get those upgrades in May 2009.

The Rotterdam IV (1997) and the Amsterdam (2000) share the "flag-ship" moniker for Holland America. They are both roughly 60,000-tons and carry about 1300 passengers. The Volendam (1999) and Zaandam (2000) are sister ships at 63,000-tons and 1440 passengers.

As a purely aesthetic departure from the rest of the fleet, in April 2002, Holland America acquired the 38,000-ton, 758 passenger Seabourn Sun, originally built in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun, from sister company Seabourn Cruise Line. Renamed Prinsendam, she sails exotic, international itineraries of 10 days and longer. Some ships in the world of cruising are classic models, too well-loved to be forgotten, and this ship (forever known to old-timers as the Royal Viking Sun, though she has changed names often) is one of them.

The Eurodam, introduced in July 2008, followed by sister ship Nieuw Amsterdam in July 2010, are the biggest and most impressive Holland America ships yet; at 86,000-tons and 2014 passengers they are 30% larger than the rest of the fleet. The fact that this is the largest ship in size and passenger capacity says everything you need to know about Holland America. Smaller ships, spacious comfortable cabins, and fewer passengers means you get great service in a quiet, professional atmosphere.

Holland America ships won't have all of the bells and whistles, especially for younger cruisers, as the larger (110,000-tons) and greater capacity (3000 passengers) Carnival or Royal Caribbean ships, but considering you can cruise on Holland America for about the same price, for adult cruisers of all ages Holland America is one of the consistently best values in the cruise industry.

The Holland America Experience: Holland America Line (please do not refer to it as "HAL") still maintains much of its original service traditions. Just look at the bellman's uniforms with their little round, brimless caps. Passengers are still summoned to dinner by the genteel ringing of a chime and then dine to the accompaniment of a string quartet or pianist. Indeed, Holland America's reverence for its own seafaring history and tradition is exceeded only by Cunard's.

The surprising thing about the line, however, is how price competitive they are with even mid-priced cruise lines such as Princess and Royal Caribbean. Great prices can be found on these ships, and if you are looking for quiet elegance on a longer itinerary, it is hard to beat Holland America for a combination of elegant, kid-free cruising at very affordable rates.

In the past, many passengers found Holland's cuisine to be somewhat bland, but a new generation of chefs is changing that. The lines' buffets have traditionally been some of the most tempting at sea. The open daily ice-cream counter (noon to 4:00 p.m.) is the best at sea, with handmade varieties accompanied by toppings like caramel and toasted almonds, and even fresh oven-baked cookies. All of the creamy goodness at no extra charge! Indeed, if there is one complaint creeping in to cruise lines selling at similar prices to Holland America, its the "nickel & diming" other lines do to chase the onboard revenue. Holland America has the good taste to keep public announcements and under the door flyers to a minimum.

Holland America's warmly gracious Indonesian and Filipino crew is probably the single biggest reason that the cruise line gets so much repeat business. The line actually operates schools in each of these respective countries to train their future crewpeople. The line did suffer somewhat during the rapid expansion days of 1998-2002, and keeping up with staffing so many ships was a bit of a challenge. But as the growth slowed down the company had a chance to re-focus on its onboard service through a $250-million campaign called "Signature of Excellence" that focused on the little details needed upgrade and maintain the quality of the fleet. The company's famous "no tipping required" policy has given way to a pre-paid $10 per person per day service charge, adjustable at the Front Desk at the passenger's discretion.

The "Signature of Excellence" initiative, started in 2004, includes tableside waiter service at dinner in the Lido buffet at night, a new Culinary Arts Program with viewing kitchens for demonstrations and classes by celebrity chefs, expansion of spa and fitness facilities, upgraded Club HAL Kids Centers, and new shore excursions. The Explorations Cafe is a combination New York Times-powered library, Internet center, music listening area and sidewalk cafe. Staterooms now offer the best mattresses and duvets sold in Europe, and suites offer flat screen TVs and DVD players on most ships. There's early boarding and a choice of four dinner seatings, including "anytime dining."

In the end, it was announced that "Signature of Excellence" actually cost the company closer to $450 million. The last refinements were still in progress as of 2007. Of the newest Vista-class ships, the Westerdam and the Noordam were delivered with the newest features, including the Pinnacle Grill Bar and the improved Explorations Cafe, both located high up in the Crow's Nest. That work was completed in May of 2008 for Zuiderdam, and May of 2009 for Oosterdam. Other improvements include flat panel televisions and top of the line linens in every stateroom.

In September 2008 the line also announced upgrades to the Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam and Rotterdam with new public rooms to add some life to these smaller, somewhat quiet ships. The somewhat stilted atriums will be upgraded with new public rooms called "The Mix" featuring three specialty theme bars; Martinis, Champagne, and Spirits & Ales.

Onboard enrichment includes the excellent culinary classes held in working demontration kitchens that look and functions very similarly to something one would see on the "Food Network." Overhead cameras zoom in on the slicing and dicing action, and food put in one oven comes out of another one magically fully cooked just five minutes later - just like on TV!

Insofar as cruising to Alaska is concerned, no mainstream cruise line does it better. The company purchased a controlling interest in Alaska tour company Westours in the early 1970's and hence moved their headquarters to Seattle, Washington in 1983. But Alaska is not all they offer. Holland America offers one of the industry's widest choice of itineraries, sailing to over 280 ports of call on all seven continents from 25 home ports, including Benghazi, Libya; Pearl Island, Panama; South Georgia Island in the sub-Antarctic islands; and Narvik, Norway.

Much of the appeal of the line is in it's spacious cabins, welcoming and practical in every category. Every ship boasts a remarkable art collection.

Fellow Passengers Holland America's longer cruises seem to appeal primarily to those over 60, but the average age on one-week cruises is plummeting, thanks to concentrated marketing to a younger clientele who understands the value the line offers in service & comfort. Such new features as Internet cafes with wireless access, special computer classes sponsored by Microsoft employees and boutique alternative restaurants help, as well as the expansion of the Club HAL program with kids and teens centers.

All that said, those who like to bar-hop or shake their booties well after midnight should stick to the 7-night Caribbean cruises, or are likely to find themselves doing so mostly with the entertainment staff. Bedtime on longer cruises still tends to be before midnight amd youngsters are few and far between.

Shore Excursions: Holland America offers expertly managed shore excursions wherever it cruises, and though the line cruises all over the world, they're neither much more nor much less expensive than other cruise lines' excursions.

Taking The Kids: Club HAL now includes kids and teens three to 17, whereas previously you had to be at least five for them to take any notice. Dedicated youth coordinators run full days of events for each age group on Maasdam, Ryndam and the Vista-class ships, (Zuiderdam, Oosterdam Westerdam). New teen areas The Loft lounge and The Oasis have sundecks with their own waterfalls, hammocks and covered snack areas.

On Caribbean cruises, the private island Half Moon Cay is a treat for younger cruisers and sun worshippers. Activities offered; horseback riding including a horseback swim in the ocean, bicycle tours, parasailing, rental of snorkle and scuba-diving gear, deep sea fishing, and an excellent alternative to Grand Cayman for swimming with stingrays. Instead of a 90 minute jaunt by bus and boat to the middle of bay packed with tourists, you can walk down a set of steps and right into the welcoming fins of the sleek creatures. The same experience without the delays and boredom.

Group babysitting is available in the Club HAL facilities from 10 p.m. to midnight at a charge of $5 per child per hour. Limited private babysitting is available through the Front Office for ages 3 to 12.

The dining rooms offer special children's menus.

Past Passenger Program: Mariner Club members receive a quarterly newsletter; special promotional offers, amenities on select sailings; separate check-in; luggage tags; onboard cocktail reception with the Captain; and other onboard goodies based on number of cruises.

Tipping: For years Holland America was known for its no-tipping policy, intended to make passengers believe that staff were doing it for love, rather than money. (Yeah, right.) Nowadays, though, gratuities of $10.00 per person (including children) are automatically added daily to the shipboard account for dining and stateroom service. Visit the front desk to adjust that amount. That a 15 percent service is automatically added to bar bills should surprise no one.

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