UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
We’ve been talking a lot about Holland America Line recently, for a number of reasons. New ms Koningsdam has much of the spotlight, as new ships usually do. Sailing in Alaska multiple times with Holland America verified their leadership position in the land of the midnight sun. Their Sip-Savor-Sail element brought unique culinary experiences, one bite and glass of wine at a time. At the top of ranking lists on everything from ethics to itinerary diversity, we saw Holland America as a line in transition, becoming more relevant while simultaneously protecting their loyal, long-time customer base. During a special event at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, we saw a glimpse of those efforts and more coming to fruition.
If you have been following along on our coverage of Holland America Line the last couple years, the story you are about to read will make total sense. For those new to the show let’s hit some background first.
Holland America – A Line In Transition
Not all that long ago if we did a little research, clicked around the Internet, visited CruiseCritic or just asked others who had sailed with Holland America Line what it was all about, the answers were a bit foggy. Diverse, long itineraries drew cruise travelers with plenty of time on their hands, bringing an older demographic; people who had the time to sail 14, 21 or more days. Still, bringing TV’s Dancing With The Stars to sea brought a relevance no other line had as though someone behind the scenes was saying “Ok we’ll do that to satisfy the relevance critics but otherwise, business as usual.” Not that business as usual was a bad thing, long time fans of the line liked it that way.
Still, other than dance fans, there was not a lot of reason for those sailing with other lines to switch to Holland America Line other than their huge presence in Alaska. Along with sister line Princess Cruises, they sail more ships in Alaska than all the other cruise lines combined, sort of like how the 59 Viking River Cruise ships add up to a market dominating position in the European river cruise segment as well. So what to do other than Dancing With The Stars: At Sea that would position the line favorably now and well into the future. A good chunk of the answer came from President Orlando Ashford, relatively new to the cruise industry with a fresh set of eyes that saw a whole lot of potential.
A forward thinking focus came as a result of an interesting concept Ashford called doing things with Collective Intelligence, a process that draws on the capabilities, knowledge and abilities of everyone in the organization to craft new onboard programming. In last year’s Holland America Line To Reveal Future we introduced that concept, predicting “it will be that same Intelligent Collective Effort that will fuel the fire behind the ideas, concepts and partnerships to be announced.”
Guess what? That happened.
Interestingly, while one might think that Holland America would be solely focused on launching new ms Koningsdam next month, they have also been busy simultaneously refitting older ships in the fleet with new features. In a fast paced media event we saw all these individual elements in one place, in a very short amount of time with the take away being: this is a whole new ballgame for Holland America.
Taking existing spaces on ms Eurodam and transforming them to some of the new venues that will debut on new ms Koningsdam was done on a dry dock remodeling last December. A little-used lounge space was turned into Lincoln Center Stage where classical music will be heard, a new Gallery Bar brings cocktails by celebrity mixologist Dale DeGroff, Billboard Onboard brings certified relevant hits to the standard piano bar space. And that’s just a taste of the entertainment moves. There’s another one we’ll come back to in a moment.
Dining too has received a stroke of the intelligent collective effort, leveraging the experience of Holland America’s Culinary Council for what will make new dining venues work. Knowing a dining venue is only as good as the food that hits the table, Culinary Council Chairman and Master Chef Rudi Sodamin was on hand, going from through Eurodam’s Pinnacle Grill as we sampled menu items from three new dining venues. Briefly:
Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center is a no brainer extension of the popular display kitchen where Holland America guests will enjoy an immersive farm-to-table experience. Seen here, Sprouting Salad Of Golden Beets
Sel de Mer is an intimate French Seafood Brasserie. We tried Bouillabaisse Marseillaise.
Tamarind features the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, as we experienced trying Wasabi and Soy Crusted Beef Tenderloin
We’ll get more into all of these venues as well as other elements of what looks to be the Holland America of today, positioned for a bright tomorrow for one very big reason we talk a lot about here. To get right to that we need to mention one more entertainment venue we sampled on revitalized ms Koningsdam.
B.B King’s Blues Club is not a new venue but serves very well to illustrate the bonus result of this intelligent collective effort we have been referring to for quite some time. On stage today, we sampled the energy produced by that venue again, also verifying how much fun it is and how nicely it resonates with cruise travelers. It was not the first time we’ve seen this; it’s a standard feature on Holland America line ships. The performers are first rate and the lead singers have an on stage relationship that comes across as a couple of nice people who really like each other. Still, while we may not think of it, we know they are playing their roles, belting out the hit songs, interacting with each other and the audience as performers do. It’s their job after all, and they do it well. As we saw on a different Holland America Line ship, sailing in Alaska last May:
When the Eurodam event was over, it was nearing time for the ship to sail off on her 7-day Caribbean itinerary and we visitors for the day had to disembark the ship, through the entrance used by the crew. Pausing just off the ship, closer than regular passengers are normally allowed I was taking a few photos when two of the performers we had just see in the BB King’s Blues Club came off too.
I asked if I could take their photo, with ships in port as a backdrop which they agreed to. It was right then that I realized how very genuine these people are and how very happy they are in what they do aboard that Holland America Line ship. You really can’t fake a genuine smile.
I’ve been in similar situations with other cruise lines, where I see the crewmembers who are happy on the ship because it is their job. Ashore, out of their roles, not so happy are the looks on their faces. That’s significant and if typical of crew on the entire line as I believe it is or will be as the result of that intelligent collective effort as it continues to weave its way through the organization, makes Holland America Line a top choice for cruise travelers to consider.