Holland America Line Cruises Travel Guide

Expertise That Comes with Experience: Holland America's ships may be young, but the line sure isn't. Formed in 1873 as the Netherlands-America Steamship Company, it's been around more than 141 years, a lot of time to learn a little about operating oceangoing vessels, o Warm Interiors: Holland America ships, especially the more recent ones, tend to be inviting, and easy on the eye. Nothing garish here, o Great Service: HAL's primarily Indonesian and Filipino staff is exceptionally gracious and friendly.

Signature of Excellence: The multi-year, mega-upgrade program has enhanced a lot of the shipboard features and activities to create a more premium experience.

Cons

Sleepy Nightlife: If you're big on late-night dancing and barhopping, you may find yourself partying mostly with the entertainment staff.

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Overview

More than any other cruise company except Cunard, Holland America Line (HAL) has managed to hang onto its seafaring history and tradition, with its reasonably priced, classic, ocean-liner-like experience. The line also has somewhat smaller, more intimate vessels than its main competitors, Princess and Celebrity.

EXPERIENCE

Cruising with HAL is less hectic than cruising on most other ships. The line strives for a less intrusive, sometimes almost sedate, presentation, although it has brightened up its entertainment package with offerings including a Dancing with the Stars-inspired dance contest and its food in recent years. Overall, the ships tend to be evocative of the days of grand liners, with elegant, European styling and displays of nautical artifacts.

About a decade ago, the company embarked on a Signature of Excellence product- and service-enhancements program aimed at elevating the quality of the dining experience, service, and enrichment programs on older ships. HAL's still-ongoing $525-million-plus investment also has meant new amenities in cabins massage showerheads, lighted magnifying makeup mirrors, hair dryers, extra-fluffy towels, terry-cloth robes, upgraded mattresses, and Egyptian-cotton bed linens. Passengers in all rooms now get a complimentary fruit basket. Suites have plush duvets on every bed and a fully stocked minibar.

Another focus has been on branded partnerships that offer passengers the chance to try new things. The Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine, has free cooking demonstrations several times during each cruise, where video cameras allow guests to watch every move the chefs make. For those who prefer a more hands-on experience, cooking classes cost $29 per person. (The classes are limited to about 12 people and hugely popular, so sign up early in your cruise. ) Over 60 guest chefs and culinary experts sail on Holland America ships each year (the line's website lists specific sailings).

The Digital Workshop Powered by Windows,  another branded offering on Holland America vessels, offers free sessions on a variety of topics related to camera basics and photo editing, moviemaking, PC security, and more. Techsperts trained by Microsoft are on hand. In addition, the recently launched On Location activity program brings local experts on board ships to offer personal insights into each destination through lectures, demonstrations, and cultural entertainment performances.

ROUTES

You can see most of the world on a Holland America ship. That includes such usual suspects as the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, Bermuda, Mexico, and the Panama Canal; and adds the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon, South America, the South Pacific, Australia, Hawaii, Asia and even Antarctica (no shore landings, though). There are Canada and New England sailings in the fall. For those who really love time at sea, Grand Voyages are longer sailings that include World Cruises and shorter segments (think voyages up to 60+ days).

PASSENGERS

Holland America's passenger profile used to reflect a much older crowd than on other ships. But the average age is dropping, thanks to both an increased emphasis on the line's Club HAL program for children and updating of the onboard entertainment offerings, the Culinary Arts Center (for cooks), and the Windows workshops (for nerds). The line also seems to be attracting more family reunions than it did in the past.

The more mature among Holland America's passengers are likely to be repeat passengers, often retirees. They are usually not Fortune 500 rich they are looking for solid value, and they get it from this line.

DINING

Years ago, HAL's meals were as traditional as its architecture even stodgy. But today the variety of dishes on the menu matches those of other premium lines, and the quality of the food is generally good throughout the fleet. Vegetarian options are available at every meal, and the line has excellent veggie burgers at the on-deck grill. We've also found that Holland America does a particularly good job of catering to special diets, ranging from vegan to kosher to gluten-free. On menus in the main dining room, look for selections from top chefs such as Elizabeth Falkner and David Burke, who advise the line as members of its Culinary Council.

Buffets are offered at the Lido Restaurant and since a large percentage of passengers dine there for breakfast and lunch, there can be serious waiting times for tables and on lines during those meals). Canaletto is a waiter-service casual Italian restaurant open for dinner on the Lido Deck, for a $10 extra charge (reservations are recommended). For a fancier meal, the Pinnacle Grill is the line's excellent steak and seafood venue on all the ships, priced at $29 for dinner and $10 for lunch; reservations are required. One night a cruise, the Pinnacle Grill hosts An Evening at Le Cirque dining experience ($49 per person), featuring the cuisine of the famed New York City restaurant.

ACTIVITIES

Young hipsters need not apply. Holland America's ships are heavy on more mature, less frenetic activities and light on boogie-till-the-cows-come-home, party-hearty pursuits. You'll find good cooking classes at the Culinary Arts Center and music to listen to in the bars and lounges, plus health spas and all the other standard activities found on most large ships photography classes, golf-putting contests (on the carpet in the lobby), art auctions, and the like. Lively piano bars are a real highlight of the line, and guests still enjoy after-dinner dancing and cocktails as a form of evening entertainment. All ships provide Internet access for 750 a minute; less if you buy a multi-minute package.

The line does a particularly good job showing off the destination in Alaska, a region this Seattle-based line pioneered. Local travel guides sail on all Alaska-bound ships as part of the new On Location program The guides bring their knowledge of AK culture, history, art, and flora and fauna, giving lectures and interacting one on one with guests. The program also includes food and beverage events, including an Alaskan Brewing Company beer tasting and Pacific Northwest winetasting. The travel guides also sell souvenirs including artwork by Alaska natives. In addition, a Tlingit cultural interpreter from Hoonah boards each ship at Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier to give talks explaining the origins of the Huna people a tribe that has called Glacier Bay home for centuries. At the glaciers, there is commentary by National Park Service employees.

CHILDREN'S PROGRAMS

Club HAL is more than just one of those half-hearted gi ve – ‘ e m- a- v i de o – arc ade – and- ho t- dogs – at-dinner efforts. This children's program has expert supervisors, a fitness center, and dedicated kids' rooms and teen club rooms (adults, keep out!).

Kids' activities are arranged in three divisions, by age 3 to 7, 8 to 12, and teens. The youngest group might have, say, crafts and games; there's golf putting and disco parties for tweens, and, for the older kids, a chance to try their hand at karaoke and sports tournaments. When there are more than 100 kids on board, a Talent Show is presented. On the Statendam, Volendam, Zaandam, and Amsterdam, teens get their own outdoor sunning area called The Oasis.

ENTERTAINMENT

The line has been making great strides in entertainment over the past decade, bringing in Broadway veterans to play the main theaters of its ships as well as top-notch illusionists, comedians, and musicians. On the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, the line opened a B.B. King's Blues Club, and other vessels began Dancing with the Stars-themed programming. Overall, the quality of the professional entertainers has perceptibly improved over the past decade.

And then there are the amateurs! Each week includes a crew talent show in which the international staff members perform their countries' songs and dances. Even if that sounds a bit corny, try it many of the staff members are fabulous! Your fellow passengers might also be quite the surprise HAL ships offer live karaoke and an American Idol-style competition that sometimes deliver professional-caliber performances.

SERVICE

The line employs primarily Filipino and Indonesian staff members who are gracious and friendly without being cloying.

Onboard services on every ship in the fleet include laundry and dry cleaning. On Holland America ships, a gratuity of $12. 50 per person per day is automatically charged to your shipboard account ($13. 50 per person per day for suites), but you can increase or decrease the amount by visiting the guest services desk.

CRUISETOURS & ADD-ON PROGRAMS

Over the years, Holland America Line has picked up a lot of stuff Holland America Line Tours (formed by the merger of Westours and Gray Line of Alaska); Westmark Hotels; the MV Ptarmigan day boat that visits Portage Glacier outside Anchorage; a fleet of railcars; an almost completely new fleet of motor coaches; and a lot more.

HAL's control of so many of the components of tour packages once gave the cruise company a position of preeminence in the Alaska market, though that's been well and truly challenged in the past decade by Princess, which now has a heavy presence in the accommodations and ground-transportation business as well. (Actually, the similarities don't end there: Both lines have large fleets of primarily late-model ships, both strive for and achieve consistency in the cruise product, and both are pursuing and acquiring younger passengers and families. And both are owned by Carnival Corp. )

As might be expected of a cruise line that owns its own land-tour company in Alaska, HAL offers a variety of land arrangements in combination with its cruises. Dubbed Land + Sea Journeys, HAL's cruisetours range from 10 to 20 days in length, including a 3- to 7-day cruise, a 1- to 3-day visit to Denali National Park, and, in some cases, a few days visiting the Yukon Territory. In a big change.

That started in 2014, the line's tours that visit the Yukon include a 1-hour flight to the region from Fairbanks that replaces up to 2 days of motor coach travel (in our eyes, a great improvement! ). While other lines have focused their land-tour options on the Anchorage-Denali-Fairbanks corridor and the Kenai Peninsula, HAL also has poured resources into the Yukon and is the clear leader there; if you want to see the Yukon as part of your AK trip, Holland America is your line (or do it independently). Prices for Land + Sea Journeys vary widely depending on the type of cabin chosen for the cruise, level of hotel for the land portion, and length of trip.

The Holland America-owned Westmark hotels used on the company's tours in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Skagway also recently have gotten substantial upgrades.

FLEET

HAL's philosophy is to stick with ships of fewer than 2,650 passengers many of them significantly smaller eschewing the 3,000- to 5,000-passenger megaships being built by some other lines. Smallest is the Prinsendam, a one-off that operates longer voyages for the company, and rarely sails itineraries less than 14 days in length. She carries just 835 guests. The line flirted with joining the megaship race back in 2002 when Zuiderdam debuted. Along with her sisters Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Noordam, she was designed to appeal to a younger crowd of cruisers with debatable results. Two near-sister ships, Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, added more balcony cabins and new dining venues. The line's newest ship, Koningsdam, made her debut in 2016.

Holland America has never shown any inclination to plunge into the 100, 000-plus-ton megaship market. Keeping the size of its ships down allows HAL to maintain its high service standards and a degree of intimacy while offering all the amenities of its larger brethren.

More modem European and less Holland America royal in feeling, these sleek ships are for all nations. Their logical evolution integrates HAL's traditionalism with new, sophisticated elements.

THE SHIPS IN GENERAL

Holland America's largest ships to date, Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam offer a stylish, tailored Northern European decor that updates the old HAL aesthetic while keeping many of its signature features in place. Artwork, as throughout the fleet, is typically Dutch. A bit larger than HAL's earlier Vista-class ships, the pair includes a number of in-vogue features, including spa staterooms with special amenities; graceful, tentlike cabanas by the Lido pool and in the Retreat; and three specialty.

Restaurants: Pan-Asian Tamarind, Italian Canaletto, and the Pacific Northwest-themed Pinnacle Grill.

Trivia for ship history buffs: Nieuw Amsterdam is the fourth HAL ship to bear that name, going back to 1906 and including the Nieuw Amsterdam of 1938, generally regarded as one of the greatest of the great old ocean liners.

Cabins With these ships, HAL's British country house style moves to sophisticated modern Northern Europe, with a more tailored look and rich, understated olives and golds; woods that run the gamut from blond to cherry; and more nickel and stainless steel than brass. Standard staterooms are very much like those on Vista-class ships (read: roomy). All categories have the latest Signature of Excellence features, from pillow-top mattresses to Egyptian cotton towels, to massaging shower heads. Closets are sufficient, but drawer space seems rather scarce until you realize that there are drawers under the beds. Tip: The veranda staterooms on Deck 4 have a bit more outside space than others.

Suites come with perks like access to the Neptune Lounge with its personal concierge; Deluxe and Superior Verandah Suites have sitting and dressing areas, double sinks, whirlpool tubs, and separate showers.

The 56 spa staterooms and suites have different decor: soothing earth tones accented with fresh green and fernlike tracings on the linens. Oddly there is not a spa package or special spa discount that goes with these accommodations but guests do have a direct connection to the spa, a healthier room service menu and a special concierge at their beck and call. Each room is also equipped with a fitness DVD, a yoga mat, and pedometers, along with a water feature to generate soothing sounds.

Thirty cabins, across the categories, offer wheelchair access.

Public areas & activities OnEurodam, the three-deck 890-seatMainstage showroom, with a descending orchestra pit and revolving stage to showcase Vegas-style shows, is flanked by a number of bars and lounges. Heading aft, the casino is smaller than most megaships, but as a result feels more action-packed. Adjacent to the casino is a music venue known as Billboard Onboard (unfortunately bleed-through noise from the casino kills the classy mood from time to time). The dedicated movie theater, complete with popcorn and very cushy leather seats, also sees good use.

One of the nicest features of Holland America ships are their nooks and crannies, little private spaces and tables where peace and privacy are easy to find, and Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam are no exceptions. We're particularly fond of the comfortable corners in the well-stocked library; and in the Explorer's Lounge, with its excellent after-dinner libations, specialty coffees, and hand-dipped chocolates. Don't mistake that for the Explorations Cafe within the Crow's Nest high up on Observation Deck 11 which offers eye candy views and Internet stations. At night, a live band takes over here.

Shutterbugs and computer aficionados will be pleased by the HAL Digital Workshop powered by Microsoft Windows which offers free workshops. Club HAL has an expanded presence on these two and have a computer room, games arcade, craft room, small stage, and the teens-only Loft. The age groups are a little larger than on most family-oriented ships, with three ranges (3-7, 8-12, and 13-17). The cutting edge Culinary Arts Center has programs for children as well as adults.

The aptly named Retreat sunning and relaxation section, located a deck above the activity of the main pool area, is a new move for HAL, and it's been very well received. The biggest attraction here.

Is the set of 14 cabanas tented, airy private worlds, very well furnished and loaded with iPods, Evian water, chilled grapes, fruit trays, champagne, and chocolate (rentals: $30-$45 on port days, depending on location, $50-$75 on sea days). The only drawback is space: The cabanas have significantly reduced the amount of sunning space in the Lido area, which could prove to be a problem in the Caribbean.

The Lido pools amidships are covered with a retractable Magrodome. The smaller Sea View pool aft of the Lido has its own bar and the Slice pizzeria.

The ship's Greenhouse Spa offers a full menu of treatments and salon services for men, women, and teens, with a particularly attractive central hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite and an aromatherapy steam room The fitness center is well equipped and has a great ocean view. Outdoors on Deck 12 is the net-enclosed Sports Court for basketball, volleyball, and the like.

Dining There are eight different dining venues, including three that were introduced on these ships: the Pan-Asian Tamarind, the family Italian Canaletto (dinner only), and Slice, a 24-hour pizzeria. The star is unquestionably Tamarind and its adjacent companion, the very charming and intimate Silk Den, decorated in pale purple and yellow and serving signature saketinis. ? The $15 fee for evening meals wouldn't even cover the tips for cuisine at this level in a major city; dim sum is served at lunchtime without charge.

The ships' dining rooms provide menu choices from steak and lobster to unusually imaginative vegetarian dishes, all served in quietly rich surroundings with a wave effect on the ceiling.

At dinnertime, the Lido buffet offers table service, and you can select dishes from the main dining room menu or the Lido's own menu. At breakfast and lunch, you do feel the increased number of passengers on board, with long lines and difficulty finding tables at hours of peak use.

Zuiderdam – Oosterdam – Westerdam – Noordam These ships were Holland America's first foray into mega-size vessels. They marry traditional HAL style with a partying Caribbean feel a weird fit that was toned back, somewhat, in each successive sister ship.

Built in a design similar to Carnival's Spirit-class ships, Zuiderdam (named for the southern point of the Dutch compass, and with a first syllable that rhymes with eye), Oosterdam (eastern, and with a first syllable like the letter O), Westerdam, and Noordam (northern compass point) were technically Holland America's first megaships, though they're downright cozy compared to the behemoths other lines are churning out these days.

Designed to help HAL shed its image as your grandmother's cruise line, the first of these vessels 2002's Zuider dam was an unhappy hybrid, mixing ultrabright Carnival-esque colors, stark W Hotel modernism, and the traditional style for which HAL was previously known. That mistake was toned down some for sister ship Oosterdam, and by the time Wester dam came on the scene in 2004, the new look had been refined. The fourth and final sister, Noordam (which replaced the previous Noordam, which left the fleet in 2004), seems to do it just right, mixing classic wine reds, dark blues, and earth tones with just a hint of zany, such as the silver-framed benches on the elevator landings and in the Pinnacle Grill and Pinnacle Bar.

In the spirit of learning from their mistakes, HAL has gone back and tweaked parts of the Zuiderdam, replacing some of the loudest carpeting and removing some jarring art pieces (like the giant-red-lips bench that once graced a corridor). All four sisters are extraordinarily spacious, with large cabins, two-level dining rooms, and distinctive specialty restaurants.

Cabins Cabins in all categories are comfortable and, as aboard every HAL ship, are among the industry's largest. The simple decor of light woods, clean lines, and subtle floral bedding is very appealing. Overall, more than two-thirds of them have verandas, with the deluxe veranda suites and staterooms in the stern notable for their deep balconies, nearly twice the size of those to port and starboard. You get a romantic view of the ship's wake, too, but because the decks are tiered back here, residents of the cabins above you can see right down.

Standard outside and veranda cabins all have a small sitting area and a tub in the bathroom a relatively rare thing in standard cabins these days. Dataports allow passengers to access the Internet from every cabin via their own laptops.

Guests in every suite category have use of a concierge lounge whose staff will take care of shore-excursion reservations and any matters about which you'd normally have to wait in line at the front desk. The suite lounge is stocked with coffee, and juice, and a continental breakfast is served daily.

Twenty-eight cabins are wheelchair accessible.

Public areas & activities Public rooms on the Vista-class ships run the gamut from the traditional to the modern, and from the lovely to the weird (again, we're talking mostly the Zuiderdam and Oosterdam, which still have some of their original ill-conceived public rooms). The more traditional spaces, done mostly in blues, teals, burgundies, and deep metallics, include the signature Explorer's Lounge, a venue for quiet musical performances and high tea. The top-of-the-ship Crow's Nest lounge, an observation lounge during the day and nightclub/disco at night, has wide-open views and even a few rococo thrones, good for wish you were here cruise photos.

The Lower Promenade Deck is the hub of indoor activity on these ships as home to the three-deck Vista Lounge 9 the venue for large-scale production shows), the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Arts Center (chef demos by day, comedians and other cabaret-style acts in the evening). Between the two, there's a piano bar and a casino, the latter really flashy on all but thq Noordam. You'll also find HAL's first-ever dedicated discos, but they're uninspired at best (and, on Zuiderdam, just butt-ugly). Our favorite room, the Sports Bar, is as far from the standard rah-rah bar as you can imagine, with comfortable free-form leather seating and table lamps. Tres chic.

Other public rooms include the wicker-furniture outdoor Lido Bar on the Lido Deck (which unfortunately lacks the charm of similar spaces on the line's older ships); and the KidZone and.

WaveRmmer children/teen centers, which are a bit bare, though roomy and sunny.

Gyms carry a full complement of cardio equipment and weight machines arranged in tiers around the cardio floor; the space is attached to another room where you'll find chaise lounges and a large dipping pool. There's also a basketball/volleyball court on the Sports Deck. The Greenhouse Spa is fully 50% larger than any other in the HAL fleet, and has a couple of HAL firsts: a thermal suite (saunas and other heat-therapy rooms) and a hydrotherapy pool, which uses heated seawater and high-pressure jets to alleviate muscle tension.

The main Pool Deck doesn't quite work on Zuiderdam, where the colors are jarring and the materials cheap-looking. However, as in many other areas aboard, the decor on Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Noordam are a vast improvement, very pleasant all around. Another pool, in the stern on Lido Deck, is a lovely spot for sunbathing and open views of the sea, and it's also the venue for outdoor movies and videos on a large LED screen.

Dining The main Vista Dining Room is a two-deck affair, decorated traditionally but with nice touches of modernism (for instance, in Zuiderdam's black, high-backed wooden chairs, which are very sharp). On Noordam, the elegant space is a throwback with wine-red fabrics, darkish woods, and a living-room-like feeling. The ship's alternative Pacific Northwest restaurant, the 130-seat Pinnacle Grill, wraps partially around the three-deck atrium ask for a table by the windows. The design is appealing, with marble floors, bright white linens, gorgeous Bulgari place settings, and sculpted chairs by Gilbert Lebirge, who also created the ships' batik-patterned elevator doors.

Diners wanting something more casual can opt for the well-laid-out and attractive Lido buffet restaurant (and its new Italian section called Canaletto ); the outdoor Grill for burgers, dogs, and the like; or, on all but the Noordam, the Windstar Cafe, serving specialty coffees (for a price), snacks, and light meals in a tall-ship atmosphere.

With 3 years separating them, near-twins Rotterdam and Amsterdam combine classic elegance with contemporary amenities and provide a very comfortable cruise, especially on itineraries of 10 nights and longer. Carrying just over 1,300 passengers at double occupancy, they're a breath of fresh air in.

The sea of supermegaships. Rotterdam is the sixth HAL ship to bear that name, following the legendary Rotterdam V, which was sold in 1997.

Like the rest of the fleet, the ships were recently upgraded to feature HAL's Signature of Excellence enhancements, including the Explorations Cafe Internet center and coffee shop, beefed-up kids' facilities, a culinary-arts demonstration kitchen, and upgraded cabin amenities.

Cabins Unlike the beige color schemes of the older Statendam-class ships, the decor here is livelier, with corals, mangos, blues and whites brightening things up. Standard cabins are among the roomiest at sea and have enough hanging and drawer space for 10-night-plus cruises. Bathrooms are generous as well, with bathtubs in all but the standard inside cabins. Beds now have plush, amazingly comfy mattresses. Both ships now also have a handful of spa staterooms for convenient access to the spa and health club.

Suites have sitting areas, whirlpool tubs, and are kept stocked with fresh fruit. Guests in these classy digs also have use of a concierge lounge whose staff will take care of all the sorts of reservations those in lower class cabins have to wait at the front desk for. Continental breakfast is served in the suite lounge daily.

Twenty-one cabins are wheelchair accessible.

Public areas & activities Overall, the ships give you the feeling of an elegant old hotel, with dark red and blue upholstery and leathers, damask fabrics, mahogany tones, and gold accents. Artwork is everywhere, from the stairwells to the walkways. Aboard Amsterdam, the theme is Dutch and nautical; aboard Rotterdam, it's Continental and Asian.

The Explorations Cafe is a main hub on the ships and the place to surf the Web while enjoying a cappuccino. The Ocean Bar serves complimentary hot hors d'oeuvres before dinner nightly, and passengers pack in to listen and dance to a lively trio. More elegant is the Explorer's Lounge with its spring ensemble, but many guests prefer the open-sided piano bar (featuring a red lacquered baby grand piano on thq Amsterdam ). The Crow's Nest observation lounge/disco is a popular spot for after-dinner dancing. Near the room's entrance on Amsterdam, you'll see the Four Seasons sculptures originally created for the old Nieuw Amsterdam in 1938. On Rotterdam, a highlight of the Crow's Nest is the life-size terra-cotta human and horse figures, copies of ancient statues discovered in Xian, China.

The Amsterdam ‘ s main showroom is more a nightclub than a theater. Sit on the banquettes for the best sightlines. Other public rooms include a large casino, library, card room, and the Wajang Theatre the spot for movie viewing as well as HAL's Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam have spacious, well-equipped gyms with very large, separate aerobics areas, floor-to-ceiling ocean views, and nice spas. There's a pair of swimming pools: one amidships on the Lido Deck, with a retractable glass roof and a pair of hot tubs; and another smaller, less trafficked, and thus more relaxing one in the stern. On Rotterdam, this area was renamed the Retreat because it functions more like a tepid wading pool lined with plastic loungers that allow guests to cool down, but not really bathe. A similar refit was scheduled for Amsterdam, but never performed due to the Retreat's unpopularity amongst HAL guests. Aboard Amsterdam, guests will find a more subdued (and traditional) Seaview Pool overlooking the stern.

Also available: a combo volleyball and tennis court and Ping-Pong tables.

Dining Aboard both ships, the attractive two-level formal dining rooms have floor-to-ceiling.

Windows and a swank, nostalgic feel. Neither ever seems crowded. The Pinnacle Grill seats fewer than 100 diners and offers Pacific Northwest cuisine in a romantic setting. The only downside here: no windows. And be careful of those funky chairs; they tip if you lean too far forward. Aboard Amsterdam, make a point of looking at the paintings, all of which have a joke hidden on the canvas.

As in the rest of the fleet, buffet-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the Lido restaurant, a cheerful place done in corals and blues. It's a well-laid-out space, with separate salad, drink, deli, dessert, and stir-fry stations. There's a taco bar poolside at lunchtime and a new Italian section in the Lido as well as a complimentary, upscale pizzeria called Slice.

Introduced at the turn of this century, Volendam and Zaandam marked Holland America's first steps into a more diverse future, offering an experience designed to attract the vital 40-somethings while still keeping the line's core older passengers happy. The ships have alternative restaurants, Internet centers, and huge gyms that can't be matched by the lines attracting younger crowds, but their overall vibe is more traditional than Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean and, for that matter, than HAL's newer and much more glitzy Vista-class vessels. These are classic ships, but with a touch of funk to keep things from seeming too old-fashioned note the autographed Bill Clinton saxophone and Iggy Pop guitar in Zaandam ‘ s elegant Sea View Lounge.

These ships, along with the rest of the HAL fleet, were upgraded over the past few years with the line's Signature of Excellence enhancements, including the Explorations Cafe Internet center, beefed-up kids' facilities, a Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen, and upgraded cabin amenities.

Cabins In a word: roomy. Fabrics are salmon red, burgundy, gold, and bronze, and the walls in a striped pale-gold fabric, hung with gilt-framed prints. All outside cabins have shower/tub combos (short tubs, but tubs nonetheless), while inside cabins have only showers. There's a storage drawer under each bed. All suites and minisuites have balconies. The single gorgeous Penthouse Suite is massive and adorned with one-of-a-kind pieces such as 19th-century Portuguese porcelain vases and Louis XVI marble table lamps.

Twenty-one cabins are wheelchair accessible.

Public areas & activities Volendam ‘ s public areas are floral-themed, which means that each aft staircase landing has a still-life painting of flowers, and a spot outside the library has a collection of elaborate Delft tulip vases, with fake silk tulips. Even the rich, graduated colors in the two-story show lounge take their cues from blossoms, going from magenta to marigold to create a virtual garden. Along with all of the flowers is some impressive booty: an authentic Renaissance fountain outside the casino (the ship's most pricey piece), an inlaid marble table in the library, and a small earthenware mask dating from 1200 b.c. that's kept in a display case near the Explorer's Lounge (the popular Internet cafe that's on both vessels).

Zaandam's musical theme is exemplified by one of the more bizarre atrium decorations we know of: a huge, mostly ornamental baroque pipe organ decorated with figures of musicians and dancers. But that's not all: Numerous musical instruments are scattered around the ship in display cases, most notably electric guitars in the atrium stair tower, signed by Queen, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. They say something about HAL's ambitions to attract younger passengers… even if younger means 50-somethings.

The ever-popular Crow's Nest nightclub has been redesigned on both vessels and now has banquettes in saturated, bold colors and translucent white floor-to-ceiling curtains that function both as decor and movable enclosures for private events. Mixology classes and other events are held here during the day; after dinner, it becomes the ship's disco. The Culinary Arts Center demo kitchen shares space with the Wajang Theatre.

There's welcome elbow at the gyms on these ships for the dozens of state-of-the-art machines (and sweaty vacationers). The feeling of spaciousness is enhanced by floor-to-ceiling windows. The ship's spa has been upgraded and features a range of treatments.

Three pools are on the Lido Deck: a small and quiet aft pool, the main pool and wading pool, located under a retractable glass roof in a sprawling area that includes the pleasant, cafelike Dolphin Bar. The Sports Deck has a pair of practice tennis courts, as well as shuffleboard.

Dining The two-story main dining rooms are truly glamorous, framed with floor-to-ceiling windows and punctuated by dramatic staircases. A classical trio serenades guests from a perch on the top level. Both ships also feature HAL's fleetwide Pacific Northwest specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill (see Dining,  on p. 165 ). The Lido buffets are attractive and efficiently constructed, with separate stations for salads, desserts, and beverages, cutting down on the chance of monstrously long lines. A sandwich station serves its creations on delicious fresh-baked breads.

Holland America's 55, 451-ton Statendam-class ships have been in service for two decades but still charm Touches of marble, teak, polished brass, and multimillion-dollar collections of art and maritime artifacts lend an elegant ambience, and many decorative themes emphasize the Netherlands' seafaring traditions (expect lots of paintings of boats). The onboard mood is low-key (though things get dressy at night), the cabins are large and comfortable, and there are dozens of comfortable nooks all over the ships.

The Statendam-class ships have been upgraded recently and now feature HAL's Signature of Excellence enhancements, most notably an Explorations Cafe Internet center, improved kids' facilities, a Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen, upgraded cabin amenities, a pizzeria and large LED movie screen at the pool area, new bars, and a nightclub.

Cabins Cabins are spacious, unfussy, and comfortable, with light-grained furniture and fabrics in safe shades of blue, beige, and burgundy. All have twin beds that can be converted to a queen and, in some cases, a king, all with HALS's wondrously comfortable new bedding. About 200 cabins can accommodate a third and fourth passenger on a foldaway sofa bed and/or an upper berth. Closets are larger than the norm, and bathrooms have bathtubs in all but the lowest category. There's also a handful of spa cabins.

Outside cabins have picture windows and views of the sea, though those on the Lower Promenade Deck have pedestrian walkways (and, occasionally, pedestrians) between you and the ocean. Special reflective glass prevents outsiders from spying in during daylight hours. To guarantee privacy at nighttime, you have to close the curtains. No cabin views are blocked by dangling lifeboats or other equipment.

Minisuites are larger than those aboard some of the most expensive lines; full suites are positively palatial. Suite guests have a choice of three pillow types.

Six cabins are outfitted for passengers with disabilities, and public areas are also wheelchair-friendly.

Public areas & activities For the most part, public areas are subdued, consciously tasteful and take advantage of the passing seascapes. For 360-views, but without the roaring winds of the Sky Deck, there's the ever-popular Crow's Nest nightclub, with its cool, subtly glowing bar and translucent white floor-to-ceiling curtains which cut the room into sexy private areas. Cocktail making classes and other events are held here during the day; after dinner, the music starts to thump and it becomes the ship's disco.

The ships' two-story showrooms are contemporary and stylish, but be warned: The balcony has bench seating, with low backs that make it impossible to lean back without slouching.

The trendiest spot is the Explorations Cafe, a well-stocked library and Internet center with a coffee bar and ocean views. If you're a crossword buff, you can tackle theAfew York Times puzzles embedded under glass in the room's cafe tables (wax pencils are provided).

There's a dark and cozy piano bar, and a new combo lounge called Mix, with three separate bars: one for martinis, another for champagne, and the third for spirits and ales. The casinos are spacious,

Though not as handsomely designed as aboard the line's newer ships. A small movie theater shows films a few times a day, and also houses the Culinary Arts Center demo kitchen the movie screen descends in front of the kitchen during showtimes.

For children, the youngest play in a bright but smallish room decorated like a giant paint box, and preteens have a karaoke machine and video games. Lucky teens, however, get the Oasis, a top-deck Sun Deck with a wading pool with a waterfall, teak deck chairs, hammocks, colorful Astroturf, and lamps designed as metal palm trees, all enclosed by a bamboo fence.

Each ship has a sprawling expanse of teak-covered aft deck surrounding a swimming pool, and now a pizzeria, bar, and large LED movie screen, too. One deck above and centrally located is a second swimming pool, plus a wading pool, hot tubs, and a spacious deck all under a sliding glass roof to allow use in Alaska, or in inclement weather elsewhere.

The Sports Deck on each ship has combo basketball/tennis/volleyball courts. The ships' windowed Ocean Spa gyms have a couple dozen exercise machines, a large aerobics area, steam rooms, and saunas. The redesigned Greenhouse Spas are an improvement, each including thermal suites with a hydrotherapy whirlpool and heated tile loungers.

The Forward Observation Deck, a huge expanse of open teak deck, is accessible only via two stairways hidden away in the forward (covered) portion of the Promenade Deck, and so gets little use. But don't miss going. There's no deck furniture here, but standing in the very bow as the ship plows through the ocean is a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Dining These ships have refined, two-story main dining rooms at the stern, with dual staircases swooping down to the lower level for grand entrances and a music balcony at the top where a duo or trio serenades diners. Ceilings are glamorous with their lotus-flower glass fixtures, and two smaller attached dining rooms are available for groups. HAL's specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill (see Dining,  p. 165 ), has a classy, more modern feel to it.

The casual indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant is smartly laid out, which helps keep lines to a minimum, and features an Italian section called Canaletto. An outdoor grill on the Lido Deck serves burgers and like; a nearby station allows you to make your own tacos or nachos at lunch.

Prinsendam Holland America's “ Elegant Explorer offers up a dose of old-world class on its longer voyages. It may be the oldest ship in the fleet, but it's also one of the most well-loved.

Prinsendam is the only ship in the Holland America fleet that wasn't purpose-built for the company Launched in 1988 as Royal Viking Line's Royal Viking Sun, it was acquired by Holland America in 2002 and has been primarily operating longer voyages (think 40 and 60 days in duration) for the line ever since. With just 835 guests onboard, this is one of the most intimate ships in the fleet, if one that's hardly ever talked about.

To step aboard is to discover the way cruising used to be and that's not a bad thing. Humanly sized with an easy-to-navigate deck plan, Prinsendam is a strikingly attractive vessel and one that makes a great long-term home base.

Because of her longer itineraries, Prinsendam caters to a much older demographic than the newest ships (it's not a ship to bring kids on).

Cabins Prinsendam ‘ s cabins come in four flavors: inside, oceanview, verandah, and verandah suites. All include comfy (and we mean comfy! ) Sealy beds that can be configured as two twins or one queen; ample storage space and elegant dark wood paneling; and massage showerheads in the bathrooms. They're not as spacious as others in the fleet, however.

Top-of-the-line Verandah Suites are the largest onboard and come with a number of exclusive perks for staying from in-suite coffee and espresso machines to Bose docking stations to complimentary mimosas with in-suite breakfasts. Guests booking the Neptune o r Pinnacle Suite category also have access to the exclusive Neptune Lounge, which offers up complimentary refreshments, canapes, a library, sofa, and a big-screen TV.

Public areas & activities Being a smaller ship, Prinsendam doesn't have the variety of public rooms that ships like Nieuw Amsterdam or even Maasdam have, but the ones that are aboard are united by their graceful elegance: Think plenty of nautical tones, pristine soft furnishings, and soft lighting.

The clubby Java Bar and Cafe and Oak Room are tucked away next to the Casino on the port side of Promenade Deck 8. This is where the majority of Prinsendam's public rooms lie. Nearby, the Explorations Cafe offers up plenty of books and Internet workstations, while the Explorer's Lounge a Holland America Line staple features ocean views, leather couches, and comfy chairs. Another Holland America staple is the Ocean Bar, with its intimate seating and navy blue decor accented by light walnut woods. Don't forget to head up to Deck 12; all the way forward is the quiet, relaxing Crow's Nest Lounge. It has a touch of 1988 about it, with its oddly styled barstools and sectional couches, but it still offers some of the best views on the ship.

The Greenhouse Spa and Salon aboard Prinsendam is the prettiest in the fleet, even if it lacks the amazing hydrotherapy pool and thermal suites found aboard the line's other ships. It also has a dedicated salon; steam and sauna rooms; and a Fitness Center where a stern-mounted swimming pool is flanked by two hot tubs. Another pool and a single whirlpool are located on Lido Deck 9. Sports facilities on board are somewhat limited, but what self-respecting cruise ship does not include croquet and shuffleboard courts?

Dining The grand La Fontaine Dining Room is the place to be for sit-down meals. Oversized windows grace three sides of this dining room, which curves attractively at the back of the room and features glass chandeliers throughout. All the way forward on the same deck is the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America's signature steak-and-seafood specialty restaurant. With its wood-paneled walls,

This roomtakes on a supper-club feel that's swankier than its incarnation on some of the line's other ships (we're looking at you, Zuiderdam. ) The Pinnacle Grill features An Evening at Le Cirque at least once per voyage, recreating the recipes of New York's famous Le Cirque restaurant.

If you just want a quick breakfast or a burger and fries, the Lido Restaurant up on Deck 9 aft can help out. Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here, though at dinner part of the restaurant is annexed off to become the Italian-themed Canaletto Restaurant. Thanks to low passenger count, the buffet never becomes quite the zoo it can be on the larger Vista and Signature-class ships. Complimentary room service is available round-the-clock.

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