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 13 ships now, including Rotterdam VI (the company
uses the same names over and over as it retires and builds new ships).
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 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
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 Vista class (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.
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 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 caps. Passengers are still summoned to dinner by the genteel
ringing of a chime and then dine to the accompaniment of a string ensemble.
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 a very affordable price.
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 always
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 slows down and the company has a chance to re-focus
on its onboard service, the quality is coming back quickly. The company's famous
"no tipping required" policy has given way to a pre-paid $10 per person per day,
adjustable at the Front Desk.
That the line is committed to keeping pace with the times is clear from its
$225 million "Signature of Excellence" initiative, begun in 2004. New features
include 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, flat
screen TVs, and DVD players. Owners of wireless laptops will be delighted to
learn that many parts of the ship are equipped for "wi-fi." There's early
boarding and a choice of four dinner seatings.
Insofar as cruising to Alaska is concerned, nobody 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.
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 the line to a younger clientele who understands the value the line
offers in service & comfort. Such new features as Internet cafes with wireless
access 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 are likely to find themselves doing so mostly with the entertainment
staff. Bedtime on these ships still tends to be about midnight.
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.
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
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.