Holland America Line is a premium big-ship cruise line offering a traditional cruise experience with modern touches and innovations that are as unobtrusive as its elegant décor.
Holland America Line is Europe’s answer to Celebrity Cruises or Princess Cruises, although its history goes back as far as Cunard.
It was founded in 1873 as Netherlands-America Steamship Company, carrying passengers and cargo between the Netherlands and the United States.
In 1989 the company was purchased by Carnival Corporation and re-branded as a US-based cruise line, with its headquarters moved to Seattle and much of its existing tonnage phased out.
With the backing of Carnival, Holland America Line embarked upon an ambitious newbuild program and focused on offering a traditional cruising experience with modern touches that don’t feel overbearing.
The cruise line retained many of its centuries-old traditions, such as afternoon tea ballroom dancing, tennis courts and the displaying of huge art collections, but also revamped its fleet in 2003 with a fresh approach to the on-board atmosphere and décor, blending modernity and elegance.
Entertainment options and dining experiences have been upgraded since the turn of the century after Holland America Line embarked upon its ‘Signature of Excellence’ program.
The cruise line upgraded all the ships in its fleet. The first phase saw the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant, the Neptune Lounge (for suite guests), and the Culinary Arts Center with demonstration kitchen, added across the fleet.
The cruise line also began to offer expanded children’s and teens’ facilities, enhanced stateroom amenities, and improved dining and enrichment offerings as it sought to appeal to a wider range of cruise passengers.
During 2008 the second phase was announced, with a new bar lounge area called Mix, the Showroom at Sea show lounge/nightclub, the Retreat resort pool area with pizzeria and LED screen and the Canaletto Italian specialty restaurant added, among other enhancements.
The Holland America Line cruise experience
Despite the significant variations in the age of the ships in the fleet, each now offers a similar cruise experience.
They bear a similar look and feel with vintage-style navy blue hulls, discreetly luxurious decor, classy dining venues, and simplified pool areas with no waterslides or party stages.
The cruise line’s theatres are bold in design, with pops of color and artsy fixtures throughout each ship.
Indeed Holland America Line has always made the display of artworks and art installations in public rooms a defining feature of the line since the 1990s.
On-board entertainment is varied, with a focus on enrichment programs like cooking classes, wine tastings, mixology classes, art events, themed trivia games, fitness classes, Digital Workshop seminars, movies and other special interest events during the day.
Holland America Line is not famous for its nightlife. Pre-dinner cocktails and some dancing in one of the main lounges after the meal are the main events of the night.
There is the occasional late night in the disco on select theme nights, but mostly passengers enjoy production shows, live band performances, and piano bar sing-alongs.
These nightlife options have recently begun to change, with signature events and experiences introduced aboard select ships, primarily the Vista and Signature class vessels and rolled out to other ships in the fleet.
The B.B. King’s Blues Club experience, which debuted on Eurodam in March 2013 and has since been added to a handful of ships, is a HAL favorite.
In the Queen’s Lounge aboard the ships, passengers can enjoy music and entertainment straight from Beale Street in Memphis.
Holland America has also teamed up with Billboard Onboard to add a new musical experience under the same name.
This has been introduced aboard Eurodam, Koningsdam and Oosterdam, it consists of a sing-along piano/guitar spot focusing on hits from a number of eras and genres like pop, rock and country.
Dining aboard Holland America Line
Dining options have always been a standout feature of Holland America Line.
The cruise line offers both traditional set-time, same-tablemates dining, as well as “As You Wish” dining, which allows passengers more flexibility in choosing when and with whom they eat.
Holland America Line was one of the first to introduce the specialty dining concept.
It launched Odyssey Restaurant (now Pinnacle Grill) on-board Rotterdam in the 2000s.
This signature fine dining venue has now been rolled out across the fleet and provides excellent dishes inspired by the Pacific Northwest; it also hosts “An Evening at Le Cirque” once per cruise, on sailings longer than a week.
The experience includes a tailored menu of French Continental cuisine, with wine selections and decor to match. In 2017, an additional Sel de Mer pop-up experience was made available in Pinnacle Grill restaurants on all Vista-class (Noordam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam) and Signature-class (Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam) ships.
Holland America Line continues to expand its alternative dining concept into the latter half of the decade. The line has added venues to several ships, including Canaletto (a family-style Italian option) and Tamarind (Asian-fusion).
There is also a Culinary Arts Centre on select ships, where passengers can cook as well as eat. The centre provides how kitchens for demos and hands-on classes. On Koningsdam, the Center also will serve as a farm-to-table dinner venue, available to book for an additional fee.
Last, but certainly not least, Holland America’s ships feature the Explorations Café, a magnificent coffee shop at sea selling for-a-fee beverages amid computer stations with Internet, an expansive library, card and game tables, and comfortable reading chairs facing out to the sea.
It debuted on the line’s Vista-class ships and has since been added to other vessels in the fleet.
Holland America Line accommodations
With Holland America Line, the enhanced cruise experience is often apparent in the little details, like the Mariner’s Dream bedding and Euro-top mattresses in event stateroom and the Elemis Aromapure bath products in the ensuites.
Every stateroom also comes with complimentary fresh fruit, no-fee 24-hour room service, bathrobes, nightly turndown service and more.
The stateroom categories are largely the standard inside, outside, balcony and suite found aboard other ‘understated’ premium lines, but in recent years Holland America has introduced spa cabins and lanai cabins (with back doors that open directly onto the wraparound promenade outer deck) on select ships.
Types of passengers on a Holland America Line cruise
Holland America Line passengers are well-heeled but somewhat traditionally minded, enjoying mingling with other passengers and comparing experiences aboard various Holland America ships.
The line attracts a loyal following and because of its emphasis on worldwide, often lengthy, itineraries, passengers tend to be retirees with the time and money for worldwide cruising.
However, the introduction of modern features like Internet cafes and alternative restaurants, as well as good kids facilities (Club HAL) and a growing entertainment line-up, mean that on shorter cruises of a week or less, especially during the holiday seasons, the cruises can be very multigenerational.
Cruise ships in the Holland America Line fleet:
Due in December, 2018: Nieuw Statendam
Categories: Cruise Line Focus