Once thought of as the "seniors" cruise line, Holland America Line is making a concerted effort to attract not only younger couples but families as well.
On our Zaandam Caribbean sailing this August, I was told the average age of fellow passengers was around 45 years. But don't think "youngsters" have taken over Holland America's fleet -- we were at sea in the Caribbean during the summer, when families frequent most ships. It is far different during other times of the year.
Tony Hernandez, Director of "Club HAL," the cruise line's youth program, said that there were 45 children aged 5-8; 100 'tweens aged 9-12 and 117 teens (13-18). Of these, approximately half participated in the "Club HAL" program at some time during the cruise. The program is not intended to provide full time kids activities or be babysitting service. Holland America designed "Club HAL" to provide life enrichment and fun for participating children. Families looking for an all-encompassing, day-to-night, extensive kids program would do well to look at another cruise line, such as Carnival.
"Club HAL" offers age-appropriate morning, afternoon and evening activities that last anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours each when the ship is at sea. A staff of seven counselors oversees the programs. Each counselor has a degree in education and is given a thorough background and reference check. To help assure parents of the safety of their children, the activities always require two counselors to be present. The staff-to-child ratio is maintained at one counselor supervising 25-30 children and, when needed, additional staff can be added to maintain this ratio. Mr. Hernandez said that most of his staff are still in school seeking masters degrees and most eventually become teachers.
The Sky Room on Sports deck is the center of the "Club HAL" world onboard the Zaandam, an area dedicated to the program. It offers a place for kid's meetings, activities and is even used as a Teen Disco in the evening. There is a small kitchenette for warming snacks.
At Half Moon Cay, HAL's private Bahamian island, a special "Treasure Hunt" shore excursion is available and participation in this excursion is reported to be high. A teen beach party is also arranged.
Children sailing with Holland America to Alaska during the summer months are in for a special treat. The children are taken on special shore excursions developed just for them, without Mom & Dad. This affords parents the opportunities to do their own thing while their kids are safely entertained. The goal of these excursions is to bring Alaska, "up close and personal" and include such things as visits ashore to view animal and sea life and encounter some of the Alaskan people. Participation in these programs is much higher than the Caribbean program and they have proved popular. Mr. Hernandez said that the program is exclusive to Alaska and is made possible by the unique attractions found only in Alaska. Currently there are no plans to bring a similar program to the HAL Caribbean cruises.
Mr. Hernandez was very excited about the direction that Holland America is taking the "Club HAL" program. The cruise line is adding more extensive space just for the children's program in its next class of ships. Such amenities as separate areas for each age group --including a teen lounge -- are some of the planned additions. He also said that as the facilities expand, Holland America hopes to become more identified as a family-friendly cruise line. While he does not expect to see water slides on the lido, he does think that families wishing to travel with their kids on a premium cruise line will find their needs fulfilled by the "Club HAL" program and he encourages them to give Holland America a try.