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 megalithic cruise corporations with several brand names under their respective umbrella, 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 and the best combination of features combined from all the other 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, 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.
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 table side 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.
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.
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.Kid's Excursions
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 snorkel 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.
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.
Room was hot from day one. Desk kept making excuses. First said temp was within range. Then said would be fixed after next port stop. Talked to other people on ship, and found others had same problem during whole 10 day cruise to Panama. Happening on decks 5,7,8,1 that I know about. Some people got compensated from $100 to $800. Others did not get compensated. Guess it depended on how loud you yelled. Desk kept lying about problem, at least they could do was admit it was a problem they couldn't fix and compensate everyone. But they kept on denying the problem even though most passengers knew it was ship wide.
This is a too lengthy review of only a short (seven-day) cruise, but it reflects our enjoyment and satisfaction from it.
It was a cruise in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, roundtrip Piraeus, the seaport of Athens, Greece.
We boarded the ship at 11:00 a.m. and our cabin was already ready. Ryndam belongs to the Statendam-class of ships, noted for its exceptionally well-designed cabins. Our outside cabin (no.728), actually more a hotel room than a cabin, was indeed one of the most spacious, airy and bright that we have ever been in and its bay-window one of the widest ones. Storage space was ample, with many drawers, and the closets had folding shelves for even more storing capacity. The beds had adequate space under them to store a medium size luggage. The mattress was out of this world and accordingly we had a heavenly sleep (I remember they used to sell it "Mariner's Dream" for $900 plus transportation costs, but I don't know if they continue). The sofa in the sitting area was not the more common 140cm, but a full 200cm, and so was the vanity, with a large mirror. Thestateroom was perfectly outfitted with flat TV with DVD player, magnifying mirror and of course the usual safe. Bathrobes were also provided.
The spacious bathroom was equipped with a full bathtub (almost every outside cabin on the ship has one). The "Elemis" toiletries here surpassed those of more expensive cruise companies: "Refreshing" came spontaneously to mind whenever I made use of them.
Although the cabin was near the staircase and elevators, it was very quiet. It was quite soundproof, too.
Our stewards, Mingki and Ali, whose kindness and efficiency we can only praise, held the cabin in immaculate condition.
We like traditional seating in the Main Dining Room, but this time we chose"As You Wish Dining" for a change (you can come to the restaurant and dine whenever you wish and with your preferred company). We were not disappointed. Contrary to what we had heard about long queues, we were able to enjoy every night a table for two (so difficult to obtain in other companies) as soon as we entered the restaurant; only once we had to wait ten minutes before one could be found. Perhaps this was because we prefer to dine late.
The variety in the Main Dining Room was one of the amplest we have encountered and the presentation and taste were excellent. Actually the taste had improved than on our last HAL cruise, a few years ago. Portions were similar (or larger) to more expensive companies. Service was as we remembered it, friendly and efficient. We were so happy with food and service there, that we did not eat at any alternative restaurant, although many fellow passengers spoke enthusiastically about Pinnacle Grill.
We had both breakfast and lunch in the Lido Restaurant, satisfied again by the variety and taste. Of special notice were the Asian food and the desserts. The tables were cleaned quickly for the next passenger to sit. Pizza also and Mexican food in the Terrace Grill were very satisfying when coming back late from the ports.
We ordered room service once, a full lunch with appetizer, soup and dessert, and it was delivered without delay. Room service is free 24 hours a day (unlike some other cruise companies) and offers a wide variety of choice.
A nice touch was the fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning.
A nice treat was also the Indonesian Tea held in the Main dining room.
Kindness, friendliness and effectiveness characterized the crew everywhere. I have heard that Holland America has a training school in Indonesia, and this could be true, as they were certainly well trained. It was a welcome surprise to be called unexpectedly by name or have your preferences remembered.
I think it is well noting that the Ryndam was honoured with the 2013 5-stars Diamond Award of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
Being of a medium-size (56,000 tons) and currying just 1,260 people the ship had an air of intimacy and never felt crowded. She was built in the 1990s, so perhaps a bit old now, but it was impressive how well-maintained and clean she was; we have been in newer ships that looked older than her.
Being especially sensitive of the visual environment, I was suspicious of what to expect, but the interiors of Holland America is a rare instance where photography does not do justice. They were especially atmospheric during the night due to the right lighting, used frequently mix-and-match and good-quality textiles, and had evident attention to detail. According to Dutch tradition flowers were everywhere with impressive flower displays here and there. What was admirable were the numerous works of art, from the 3-deck high sculpture in the Atrium to 17th century paintings or 18th century consoles. We were told that works of art aboard a Holland America ship could reach a $2,000,000 total value. It was a pity that the dress code was not more formal (something like Cunard's for example) to complement such elegance.
Of special notice was the Explorations, a spacious combination of a nice library and internet cafe, ideal to sit and handle your business in the PC or relax with a book. The theatre also was designed partly as a night club, which added to its atmosphere.
Usually we do not watch many shows in the theatre in other companies, as we prefer late seating and after it we are not in the appropriate mood, preferring the bars or dancing. However, 'As you wish dining' enabled us to watch fairly many shows earlier in the theatre, all well-taken care of, and we were particularly impressed by the talented singers and dancers.
Ryndam is one of the relatively few ships offering separate theatre and cinema, and my DP was impressed with the popcorn provided in the latter.
Congratulations go to the employee who designed the itinerary, as he/she managed to incorporate much of the essence of Greece in a short package "Homeric Quest" was the name of the cruise). As far as I have noticed, itineraries are a strong point of Holland America. Our previous cruise on ms Rotterdam involved a detailed circle of Western Europe, including famous capitals, historic sites, beautiful sceneries and shopping opportunities, absolutely the best itinerary we have ever had in any cruise. Now we felt we savoured a carefully designed taste of cosmopolitan Greece - ancient and modern.
Corfu and Rhodes do not need any recommendation. Both have been extensively held under European occupation, Corfu mainly under British, Rhodes under Italian domination, and this has arguably helped them to become well known to international tourism. Strolling in the old towns of these ports is a must and shopping opportunities abound, prices being even more attractive due to the current financial situation.
Kusadasi (the "island of the bird") owes its importance to nearby Ephesus. Interestingly, Efesus is presented as a Roman city, based on its ruins from this period, but ask any student of Ancient History in an American or a British University and they will tell you that Ephesus was built by Greeks and was already flourishing centuries before the might of Rome entered the historical stage here; it scorned the Latin language and retained thoroughly its Greek character. So its inclusion in this particular quintessentially Greek cruise itinerary ("Homeric Quest") was perfectly justified. Of special interest also is the house where, according to the Catholic religion, Virgin Mary lived and died.
Contrary to the other ports, bargaining in Kusadasi was absolutely required when shopping. An officer of the ship jokingly forewarned us in a friendly talk: when a local asks $10, you must counter-propose him $1, and the bargain starts from this point!
Katakolon is the port to ancient Olympia, a must-see as the birthplace of the Olympic Games, more than seven centuries before Jesus was born. Katakolon itself is a surprisingly picturesque little port, where you can have a meal or a drink two or three feet from the sea - at low prices.
However, the highlight of the cruise for us was Santorini, acclaimed the most beautiful island in the world by â€˜Travel Leisureâ€™. Here history meets a unique landscape in a dramatic way. Birthplace of the Cycladic civilization, the first European one along with the Minoan in Crete, the island was torn to pieces by the eruption of its volcano 1,650 years B.C.. The result is that, after climbing to the top of the steep coast by means of a cable car or a donkey, you can have lunch or drink enjoying a tremendous panoramic view of the sea-flooded caldera.
Back in Piraeus, a smooth disembarkation ended a great cruise.
Overall, from all aspects it was an excellent cruise and a great value for money. Accommodation, food, service, entertainment, itinerary, all were exemplary. Holland America is one of the rare instances in the market where we found a motto coming true: â€˜A signature of Excellenceâ€™ indeed. We would fully recommend them and we are looking forward to return.
I've read some of the reviews here that are less than flattering for the Westerdam, and I feel I must step in and say something. I've also noted, however, that some reviews are a bit outdated. So hopefully my review will help a bit, since my husband and I have just returned from a cruise in September of '13.
I will start with the cons of the Westerdam, as that won't take as long to describe. In the description of the formal evenings we were told that the men "sometimes choose to wear jackets" in the Vista Lounge. When we arrived at the Vista we were told that jackets were "required." So that was a bit of a surprise because my husband didn't bring a jacket. Fortunately they had jackets there for him to borrow. Also, there was one fellow in the Lido cafe who I noticed never smiled. Okay - those are my two "cons" with regard to the entire trip and the whole cruise line and the Westerdam itself.
Now the pros - the ship was clean, shiny, beautiful, well appointed and just plain incredible. (This was our thirdcruise and also the third cruise line we had tried.) The staff was beyond helpful, always smiling (except for that one guy in the Lido) and our steward even called us by name! Every single one always greeted us with a smile - every single time! There was ALWAYS a "Good morning madam," or "Good afternoon, how is your day?" It was amazing. One day we requested a banana for our room, and for the rest of the cruise we had bananas every single day. The food was wonderful, plentiful, and just plain terrific.
There were always great activities. "High Tea" included an amazing array of goodies that even my husband - a large eater and sugar addict - couldn't possibly finish. One night there was a barbecue featuring salmon and chicken, along with so much other fancy food, as well as a marzipan sculptured eagle and so many desserts. Other outdoor feasts included a HUGE banana cream pie, an apple pie, and a chocolate bread pudding - all to die for.
And, contrary to what another reviewer said, the performers possessed the most incredible talent I've ever seen. The choreography was mind blowing, and the singing - wow!!! The lead male singer had the best voice of any singer I've ever heard - hands down. That guy needs an agent. I don't know where HAL gets these talented people, but once a talent agent sees these kids they are out of there! There was a "Dancing with the Stars" contest where cruisers could try out their own abilities at dancing, and the winner would go on to compete with other HAL dance winners. They gave away a free cruise in a drawing, and had huge jackpots at several bingo games. There's not enough space to describe the daily activities that went on - geared to every age level and type of person - active, lazy, old, young, athletic, nerdy, etc.
We have been on a Royal Caribbean Cruise, Norwegian, and now Holland American. The best by far is Holland America. Do not be afraid to book a cruise on the Westerdam. You will love it.