Updating a 144-year-old brand comes with risks. Change too dramatically, and you risk backlash from long-time devotees. Cling too much to the past, and you risk losing out to ships with the latest in dining and entertainment.
Koningsdam, Holland America Line’s first new ship in six years (and with 2,650 passengers, its largest), deftly balances tradition with modern twists. The result is an experience that feels familiar yet fresh, with a new approach to design, dining and entertainment.
Previous ships have leaned heavily on maritime tradition, with antiques, dark woods, oil paintings of historic vessels. Koningsdam is lighter and airier, featuring pale woods and bright spaces created by hospitality star Adam D. Tihany and his team.
Some of the touches are small. For instance, rolled towels in the deck chairs, once a royal blue, are now tangerine, lime and blueberry. Oil paintings of historic vessels have given way to black-and-white photographs. Architectural elements such as curved ribs create a graceful riff on notes and instruments — a nod to the ship’s musical theme. Paintings, photographs and sculptures of instruments and musicians pay homage to sounds from harp to Jimi Hendrix.
The music fills more than the walls. Koningsdam showcases Holland America’s new entertainment focus in a live performance area called Music Walk. After dinner, guests stroll from jazz to Boomer faves to Beethoven, thanks to partnerships with a trio of sound-centric icons.
The B.B. King Blues Club features Memphis-trained singers and an eight-piece band that draw a footloose crowd to the dance floor. Billboard magazine’s Onboard plays pop, with singers that also play dual pianos and encourage the crowd to croon along. Lincoln Center Stage highlights classical music, with strings at the center.
As on most ships, live song-and-dance productions take center stage in the main performance theater. On Koningsdam, the World Stage is backed by a 270-degree panorama of LED screens reaching two stories high and 250 feet long. The space showcases five new production shows and a first-at-sea: a live concert and visual sweep into the wilderness of the polar regions, an adaption of BBC’s “Frozen Planet” program.
New onboard is a wine-blending experience. My first attempt at blending an expensive red was a waste of fine grapes. Fortunately for everyone in the room, we had started with tiny samples before venturing into the concocting process for an entire bottle.
After much give and take, with kind suggestions from the expert leading our class, my final batch was a smooth, dry red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, two different Merlots and a splash of Cabernet Franc, all from Chateau Ste. Michelle vineyards, Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge Estate.
My private bottle, hand-labeled Chateau Molyneaux Best Red Guess, was no $8 special from the low shelf at a corner drugstore. The quality liquids might sell in a wine shop for $80-$90 a bottle, the instructor said. I carried it to dinner with great care and an appreciation for having a highly drinkable souvenir from my $129 wine class.
As for dinner — and other meals — Koningsdam’s new restaurants feel more like an urban neighborhood than a ship. Foodies find plenty to drool over in the show kitchen for hands-on classes and demonstrations that by night becomes a farm-to-table restaurant for 74-seat Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center, where a five-course meal and unlimited wines is priced $39 per person. New also is Sel de Mer, a cozy French seafood brasserie serving such classics as fresh oysters, salt-crusted whole fish, veal ragout and braised beef; it, too, is an extra-fee restaurant. At the Grand Dutch Café, guests can pick up tasty Dutch snacks (most are free), including pea soup, pickled herring, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches and, for a fee, Dutch pale lager beer.
The casual Lido restaurant, where meals are included in the cruise fare, has been refashioned, with an abundance of seats and buffets and made-to-order food stations that reduce lines. Hand-washing stations are set up at entrances — a welcome alternative to the more-common sanitizer dispensers. No longer do you need to make a restroom stop to prepare for a meal; just stick your hands into two inviting holes, where they are sanitized in a full cycle of water, soap and an air dry.
Holland America’s familiar specialty Pinnacle Grill returns, with chops, steaks, and for the meat-shy, halibut and salmon and king crab legs ($35 per person). Also familiar, but expanded, is the restaurant Tamarind, with fare from Southeast Asia, Japan and China. On this ship, Tamarind has added a sushi bar, because, as we all know, sushi is in.
David Molyneaux is editor of TheTravelMavens.com. Jane Wooldridge, an editor at the Miami Herald, is a past winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year award.
Cruise line: Holland America
Passengers: 2,650, double occupancy
Passenger decks: 12
Class: First in the new Pinnacle class
Length: 975 feet
Beam: 114.8 feet
Cruising speed: 24 knots
Christened: May 2016
Godmother: Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
Itinerary: Winter sailings from PortEverglades to the Bahamas and Caribbean; most are seven days or longer. In April, it returns to Europe for sailings in the Mediterranean and Baltic.
Pricing: According to the cruise line’s website, a seven-night Caribbean sailing on Feb. 12 begins at $759 per person, double.
Information: hollandamerica.com; 877-932-4259