Change is afoot at Holland America Line.
The line, which has been around since 1873 and has been owned by Carnival Corporation & plc since 1989, recently bade farewell to Statendam and Ryndam after more than two decades in service as “dam ships.” Their exits come at a time when Holland America is preparing to welcome a new ship into the fleet: the 2,650-guest Koningsdam.
Named after Willem-Alexander, the first King of the Netherlands in more than a century, Koningsdam will be the largest ship ever constructed for Holland America Line when she sets sail on her maiden voyage in April of this year. The lead ship of the line’s new Pinnacle Class, she also represents a fairly substantial evolution of the Holland America Line product, with new features, amenities and touches that are designed to appeal to younger cruisers and families alike. This, while still pleasing the legions of loyal past passengers the line has amassed over the decades.
It’s not an easy task – but Koningsdam is up to it, poised to become the most influential ship launched since 2002’s Zuiderdam hit the scene.
At first glance, Koningsdam looks much Eurodam and her sister Nieuw Amsterdam. But look closer and you’ll notice a number of design differences: Koningsdam sports an extra accommodations deck when compared to her predecessors, and her look does away with the dual-funnel arrangement of the Vista Class ships. Instead, Koningsdam’s designers have gone back to basics with a single Statendam-esque funnel that streamlines the new ship’s profile.
Other small changes are afoot, including the removal of the midships glass elevators of her predecessors and a new Promenade Deck layout that favors lifeboats that are flush with the deck level instead of suspended above it by their davits.
The changes aren’t just reserved for the ship’s exterior appearance. Inside, a whole host of new amenities and public venues have been planned for Koningsdam.
In a nod to catering to cruisers of all ages, Koningsdam will feature the line’s first purpose-built family staterooms. At the other end of the spectrum, solo cruisers will find specially designed single occupancy staterooms that are designed to suit their needs – and their budgets.
Koningsdam also rolls out a number of public venues that are noteworthy firsts for the line. The ship will feature an expanded Queen’s Lounge that is reminiscent of the ballrooms aboard the ships of Cunard Line. Koningsdam also re-thinks the approach to live evening entertainment, with an entire section of the ship known as the Music Walk.
Clustered around the Music Walk are multiple shipboard venues, each of which highlights a different genre of music. The Lincoln Center Stage offers chamber music performances nightly, while Billboard Onboard is where live musicians rock the crowd with chart-topping hits. Rounding out the mix is B.B. King’s Blues Club and the World Stage, with its 270-degree LED projection in the main showroom, which has allowed Holland America to create new evening performances designed to immerse the audience in a panorama of sight and sound.
Cruisers can also blend their own wines at sea at the aptly named BLEND. Holland America partnered with Washington State-based Chateau Ste. Michelle in order to create this unique culinary offering for guests. Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington state’s oldest and most acclaimed winery, and through the winemaking process, guests will learn interesting information about the history of Washington wines and winemaking, examine soil samples, and see how different vineyard sites impact the flavors and style of the wine. The onboard Cellar Master also will instruct guests on what characteristics, flavors and nuances to look for in the wine from each barrel.
Returning favorites include an elegantly restyled Crow’s Nest, the forward-facing watering hole situated high above the ship’s navigation bridge; and the Greenhouse Spa & Salon, which will still feature an elaborate Hydrotherapy Pool and heated ceramic loungers positioned next to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the vast expanse of the sea.
Make no mistake about it: This isn’t your grandmother’s cruise ship. Koningsdam is hooked-up and plugged in like never before. Each of the ship’s 1,331 guest accommodations will feature bedside USB ports for charging your iPhones and other electronic devices. You can also say goodbye to the always-clingy shower curtain: showers will be frameless and made of glass.
Culinary offerings have also seen a substantial evolution, with more distinct choices than ever being offered onboard. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy fine dining in several alternative restaurants including Sel de Mer, a new French seafood brasserie; a new immersive farm-to-table dinner experience in the Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine; a re-designed casual Lido Market with themed serving stations; a grand main dining room; and returning past-passenger favorites such as the Pinnacle Grill, Canaletto Italian restaurant and the pan-Asian-themed Tamarind.
Before I ever started writing about cruises, I’d sailed with Holland America a whopping 12 times – all in my early twenties. So why does someone in their twenties sail with a line that, for decades, has catered almost exclusively to an older demographic? Two reasons: the ships and the staff.
I’ve always admired Holland America’s beautifully designed ships, with their multi-million dollar collections of onboard art and their soothing décor. But it’s the legendary HAL service that made the biggest impression on me. Holland America’s staff are deserving of recognition as some of the friendliest and most personable at sea, and that goes right from their seafaring captains all the way down to the bartenders mixing your drinks or the cabin stewards who refresh your rooms each and every day.
Do you like your drink mixed a certain way? Your bartender will remember. Have you sailed with Holland America before? Chances are good that someone will greet you by name. I’ve run into former HAL crew members who have moved on to other ships who still address me by name, and it’s nothing short of astonishing. Holland America’s legion of loyal past guests – known as Mariners – repeat heavily with the line, and it’s largely due to the excellent service onboard.
Koningsdam isn’t a radical departure from the Holland America Line formula, but she is a gentle nudge in a newer direction. Change is hard, particularly when you have the kind of loyal past-passenger base that Holland America does. But this is change for the better, and Koningsdam represents a new chapter in this venerable line’s history.