Watching fellow passengers gracefully samba and cha-cha to a live band as white-gloved waiters served a formal high tea in the elegant Queen’s Lounge, stopping by the sidewalk bistro-style Grand Dutch Cafe for a sandwich and brew, watching movies under the stars, and savoring our artistically presented gourmet dinner in the new Sel de Mer French restaurant were just a few of the highlights for my husband and me during a recent sailing on the ms Koningsdam. The first of the Holland America Line (HAL) Pinnacle Class ships, the ms Koningsdam puts a contemporary spin on the line’s traditional product that may feel surprising at first to loyal HAL cruisers.
“It’s a fresh take on what they had on other ships, polished to appeal to a younger crowd,” said Michael Consoli, an Atlanta-based Cruise Planners franchise owner. “The ship will be familiar to loyal Holland America cruisers—the layouts of the cabins are the same but with modern finishes; the deck plan is similar with the Crow’s Nest and other things they love, but they’ve added features that expand its appeal.”
The 2,650-passenger ship is now the line’s largest (a sister ship of the same size is slated for delivery in fall 2018). And while not big by mega-ship standards, the added space provides room for new onboard experiences.
“It allows us to introduce some wow factor venues,” said Eva Jenner, v.p., North America sales. “It’s our first ship with a purpose-built Music Walk…and has the largest Greenhouse Spa in our fleet. It brings a new vibe to the premium cruise experience, yet continues to deliver what our guests have come to expect from us.”
Widening its appeal, the ship introduces HAL’s first single cabins as well as family cabins with convertible and bunk beds that sleep up to five and an expanded kid’s facility with dedicated indoor and outdoor space.
This ship can be a good fit for some multigenerational trips as long as the kids don’t come expecting a surf simulator, climbing walls or a DJ blasting tunes around the pool, said Naples, FL-based Cruise Planners franchise owner Lisa Hoffman. “It’s an elegant ship with a country-club casual ambiance.” For some clients, Hoffman said she would draw comparisons between the Koningsdam and Oceania. “It’s similar in sophistication but at a lower price point and a larger ship,” she says.
HAL fans will be happy to find familiar specialty restaurants such as the Pinnacle Grill, Canaletto Italian and pan-Asian Tamarind. They should also like the new a la carte French-style brasserie, Sel de Mer, specializing in fresh seafood dishes. And there are other changes. The Culinary Arts Center, known for its cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes, has added immersive dinners on the Koningsdam—5-course meals with unlimited wine where chefs prepare and explain each course in the show kitchen before it is served. And wine enthusiasts can book a session at BLEND By Chateau Ste. Michelle to try their hand at creating their own wines.
The Dining Room’s bold new design with its sweeping lines and red and yellow Murano glass chandeliers puzzled a few long-time HAL cruisers we spoke with, although most finally embraced the change. The Dining Room remains unchanged in allowing pre-set, reserved or drop-in seating and I can attest to the gracious and high level of service. Plus, the cuisine, developed by the HAL Culinary Council under the direction of award-winning master chef Rudi Sodamin, rivaled that of a fine land-based restaurant.
Also introduced on the Koningsdam were several casual, no-upcharge dining options. Overlooking the pool, the New York-style Deli and Pizza, which served individual artisan pizzas, salads and sandwiches until 1 a.m., was nearly always busy. Another hit was the Grand Dutch Cafe, which served sandwiches and snacks including Dutch favorites such as herring and traditional small pancakes on pretty blue and white Delftware.
Entertainment for All
We especially enjoyed the new Music Walk, a three-venue center that taps partnerships with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, B.B. King’s Blues Club and Billboard to satisfy different musical moods and tastes. Our top choice was the daily chamber music concerts, but there was also a live 8-piece band that got everyone dancing and a crowd-pleasing piano duo playing Billboard top hits. A fun music theme also dances through the ship with music-inspired architecture, deck names and museum-worthy art, which encouraged us to walk the stairs and explore the nooks and crannies of the ship.
Packed for almost every show was the World Stage, which provides 270 degrees of easily changed surround-screen scenery for the live performances. Among our favorite acts were Jamie Allan, an entertaining “iMagician”; an around-the-world dance show; and “Frozen Planet,” an hour of BBC Earth film footage of the Polar wilderness set to live music.
Unlike on many ships, we felt the ship helped connect us to the ports of call. In Spain, for example, the Culinary Arts Center offered a paella-making class and we saw a phenomenal Flamenco dance program. In addition, the ship’s knowledgeable “location guide” offered interesting port and culture talks and scheduled evening and morning hours to answer individual questions.
The ship’s varied itineraries are timed to provide the flexibility to combine two and sometimes more segments to create longer voyages. We met a number of passengers who were combining three segments to create journeys that spanned several weeks. Its ports of call include a combination of popular and less-visited locales. In addition, the choice of excursions offered by the line is varied enough to fit a wide range of interests, ranging from walking and van tours that focus on destination highlights to a cooking lesson on a Sicilian farm and a tour of the World War II tunnels of Gibraltar.
The ship will home port in Amsterdam for a summer series of northern Europe and Baltic cruises and then cruise the Mediterranean in September before crossing the Atlantic to home port at Port Everglades, offering a choice of Caribbean itineraries. Rates start at $1,299 for 12-day Mediterranean itineraries; from $899 for 7-day Caribbean itineraries.
Holland America Line: hollandamerica.com