What Makes Holland America Line Different?

In 2018, Holland America Line (HAL) celebrated its 145th Anniversary. Only one other major cruise line can boast that kind of longevity, Cunard Line, which was founded in 1840. 

Holland America began as a shipping and passenger line and during the company’s first 25 years brought more than 400,000 emigrants to the Americas. In 1895, Holland America offered its first vacation cruise. The company has been in the cruise business a very long time, and has used that time to refine its product. 

Facets of its history are reflected in the fleet’s multimillion-dollar museum-quality shipboard art and antiques collections, something you won’t find on other cruise lines.

Purchased in New York and installed on Nieuw Amsterdam, a classic Checker cab.

Even the ships’ names follow a pattern set long ago: All end in the suffix dam and are either derived from the names of Dutch landmarks, points of the compass, or dams that protect the country from flooding. These names are recycled when vessels are retired. Frequent passengers refer to HAL’s fleet as the “dam” ships.  

Unlike most cruise lines, HAL ships are constantly moving around the globe. While many ships sail the same itinerary week-in-week-out, HAL ships sail worldwide – seasonally. Itineraries vary from short 3-day cruises, 7-day and 14-day cruises. HAL also offers longer cruises and Grand Voyages that include a 120+ Day Around-the-World Cruise.

There are a few itineraries where HAL excels, specifically Alaska. The line has been cruising to Alaska for more than 70 years.  

The “dam” ships have a fiercely loyal following. On any given cruise more than 50 percent will be repeat passengers. Indeed, most passengers I’ve spoken with say that won’t sail with any other cruise line. 

So, what does Holland America do differently to demand this kind of loyalty?  

According to Eva Jenner, Vice President of North American Sales for Holland America Line, that question is easily answered. 

“The Holland America Line difference is simple. Perfectly-sized, elegantly appointed ships, the highest standards of service, award-winning cuisine created by our Culinary Council, unique worldwide itineraries, and our “Music Walk,” the most talented musicians performing the finest music at sea,” says Jenner. 

Let’s take a look and see what the Holland America Line difference is. 

Volendam and Nieuw Statendam docked in Half Moon Cay. © 2019 Britton Frost

Ships – Size … and Service Matters

HAL’s fleet consists of 14 ships ranging in size from less than 56,000 tons to a little over 99,000 tons. These ships are considerably smaller than many at competing lines. Not only are HAL’s ships smaller, considered mid-sized in the industry, but the staterooms onboard are larger, which means that the ships carry fewer passengers than similarly sized ships operated by other cruise lines. This small guest capacity makes the ships feel more spacious. 

HAL is noted for focusing on passenger comfort, and the cruises are classic in design and in style. A Holland America Line cruise, in many respects, harkens back to the days of the ocean liner travel, which HAL helped to invent. On board passengers are greeted with an intimate and luxurious experience. 

The level and detail of service is only surpassed by some of the ultra-luxury cruise lines. Crew members on HAL ships receive rigorous training at one of two colleges that HAL owns in Asia. One is in the Philippines, the other, in Indonesia. These countries are where the majority of HAL’s crew come from. Bar staff, cocktail servers, and deck crew are mostly from the Philippines, while restaurant staff and cabin attendants come mostly from Indonesia. 

The first indicator of training comes within the first day of sailing. Passengers will find that crew members will remember their names by the second day on board. 

“One reason why I love HAL is the people,” says Jessica Wilson, a frequent HAL passenger. “I’m not even on board for 24 hours, and crew members will greet me by name, and always with sincerity and a smile. They know what I like and make me feel special.”

It’s consistency that sets HAL apart from other cruise lines. Passengers will find traditional afternoon tea served daily. Each evening a uniformed steward wanders the ship, playing chimes to announce dinner. There is a promenade, a trademark on all the “dam” ships, a wraparound deck for walking, jogging, or stretching out in the shade on a padded deck chair. 

Canaletto's menu has a variety of options, from steak to pasta. © 2019 Britton Frost


In addition to being pampered, one of the great joys of cruising is eating. Here is another area where HAL excels. HAL chefs are led by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin and HAL’s Culinary Council. On board each of HAL’s ships you’ll find that every executive chef is a member of the prestigious Confrerie de la Chaine de Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society. 

HAL’s Culinary Council is a recent addition to the line. It’s made up of seven world class celebrity chefs each putting their own special mark on the menus. 

You’ll of course find the traditional and elegantly appointed Main Dining Room, and the Lido Restaurant, a casual buffet style restaurant. You’ll also find specialty restaurants including Canaletto (Upscale Italian) and The Pinnacle Grill (Steakhouse). 

On certain ships you’ll also find Tamarind (Indonesian/Asian Fusion & Sushi), Rudi’s Sel de Mer (French Seafood Brasserie), Grand Dutch Café (Dutch Food and Belgian Beers), to name just a few.

For casual fare, The Dive-In, located poolside serves some of the best hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries at sea.

To accentuate all the food HAL has partnered with James Suckling, Senior Editor of Wine Spectator, to choose the wines you find on board, and Dale DeGroff, a.k.a, King Cocktail,  who created a signature cocktail menu. 

Cocktails are a real treat on HAL ships, just last year a HAL bartender was named the 1st Runner Up in the Bacardi International Bartenders Competition. More importantly, I can attest that when I order a Martini or a Manhattan, I receive a perfectly-crafted cocktail. That is certainly something different from many other cruise lines. 

Getting down to some Aretha Franklin at B.B. King's Blues Club. © 2019 Anita Dunham-Potter

Diversions Abound

There is so much to do, if that’s what you want. Of course HAL offers all the traditional activities you’ll find on other cruise lines, but the line has several partners who help to create unique and exciting programs you’ll only find on HAL. 

Learn how to cook with the chefs of PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen, grab an Oprah recommended book and join fellow passengers in the O Book Club. O, The Oprah Magazine has partnered with the cruise line to provide exclusive programming. 

Figure out what you’re going to do at your next port-of-call at Explorations Center (EXC), HAL’s exclusive destination programming designed to deepen your understanding of the places you’ll visit through lectures, interactive maps, and cultural immersion experiences. 

Of course you can catch a big production show in the ship’s main showroom, but HAL has something that other cruise lines simply do not, namely, Music Walk. 

Stroll through the ship from live music venue to live music venue and experience, Lincoln Center Stage, a partnership with NYC’s iconic Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Billboard Onboard, Rolling Stone Rock Room, The World Stage immersive entertainment experience, B.B. King’s Blues Club, just to name a few.

A beautiful blend of modern and traditional styling in our Verandah Stateroom aboard Nieuw Statendam. © 2018 Britton Frost

When You’re Done for the Day

After experiencing all this, you can head back to your stateroom for the night. Here again, Holland America Line’s differences are immediately noticed since staterooms are larger than the industry standard. As a passenger you’ll enjoy a larger stateroom; HAL wants to maintain a less-crowded ship. 

You’ll find staterooms to suit every taste, spacious inside staterooms to the grand Pinnacle Suites on board. Special staterooms in-between including Family Staterooms and Single Staterooms, which are designed for the solo traveler in mind. 

What makes Holland America Line so different? They don’t try to be different. They have learned a lot in their 146-year history, they know what works. Instead of building roller coasters, go-kart tracks, or rock-climbing walls, they refine what they already do best, and it works … that’s the difference.  

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  • The newer HAL ship have narrowed the promenade aisle so that there are no longer room for lounge chairs. Hence, one cannot laze about and read a book.

  • Food is absolutely delicious
    Good entertainment
    However…..No Karaoke
    This is a major drawback for my wife and I.
    Whether I go on a HAL ship again is in question.
    We were on Koningsdam and found a lack of things to do between breakfast and dinner except the pool.
    We will try Celebrity next time.

  • We just sailed on the Zuiderdam from Quebec City to Fort Lauderdale. The food and service was very good. However, because of the number of people on canes, walkers and wheelchairs, I felt like I was in a nursing home.

  • “So, what does Holland America do differently to demand this kind of loyalty?

    According to Eva Jenner, Vice President of North American Sales for Holland America Line, that question is easily answered. ”

    Apparently “this kind of loyalty” doesn’t apply to Eva Jenner, who was summarily terminated last week as part of a management shakeup.

  • It’s too bad they have a very delayed and untimely payment to their contractors. The overall operation is on point but the financial efficiency is completely horrendous in regards to the numerous specialty contractors who really keep up the ship to pristine shape.


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