Holland America Line's first new ship in six years, the Koningsdam, launched in April, and this past week we had a chance to see how this very traditional company is evolving as it introduces the biggest vessel of its 143-year history.
"Big" is a relative term. At 99,500 gross tons and carrying 2,650 passengers, Koningsdam is actually mid-sized by today's cruise standards. And it's not really that much bigger than Holland America’s most recent ship, the 2010 Nieuw Amsterdam, which measures 87,000 gross tons, and carries 2,106 passengers. But the extra space allows for more on-board entertainment and eateries.
In going bigger, Holland America didn't add enormous lounges, bars, or dining spots. Instead, it added a larger variety of restaurants and entertainment choices. There is a major new entertainment zone, the Music Walk, with three lounges dedicated to different music styles: Lincoln Center Stage presents chamber music concerts. B.B. King's Blues Club rocks out with an eight-piece band from Memphis in the expanded Queen's Lounge. And Billboard Onboard, a new twist on the piano bar, has two pianists and a DJ who play requests and perform shows of Billboard hits.
There’s also the World Stage, a theater with custom-built, 270-degree panoramic, two-storey-high LED screens. The space is home to several new shows that use the screens to provide dramatic backdrops like photos of the Himalayas, desert dunes, and other natural wonders. It also hosts shows created in a new partnership with BBC Earth, such as "Frozen Planet, " a high-definition film about the earth’s polar regions (adapted from the BBC Earth show of the same name) that is set to live music.
Koningsdam's dining improvements include the Lido buffet, which has been reconfigured into a market with themed stations where diners can order customized salads with gourmet toppings like ahi tuna, fresh sushi, or comfort foods like roasted chicken. Also new is Sel de Mer, an intimate French seafood brasserie with an iced display trolley where diners can view the seafood available, including a fresh catch of the day that is purchased from a local market by the chef.
The ship's most innovative dining is found in the Culinary Arts Center. This spot, which offers cooking classes in partnership with Food & Wine Magazine, also serves farm-to-table dinners prepared in a show kitchen while the chef narrates. Dishes on this trip included a salad of earthy yellow heirloom beets drizzled with hazelnut oil followed by risotto topped with a frizz of crisp-fried kale leaves and a plate of cheeses with wild honey or thin rolls of chocolate filled with mascarpone cream.
Oenophiles can even make their own wines at BLEND, a venue where passengers can use a selection of five red wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, in Washington, to create their own custom blend with guidance from a wine expert. The wine is then bottled for them to drink at dinner or in their staterooms.
The ship’s interiors were designed by Bjørn Storbraaten, a veteran maritime designer who has worked with the company before on the Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam, and Adam D. Tihany who previously designed restaurants for culinary royalty like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten, and Paul Bocuse, as well as luxury hotels, like the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Breakers in Palm Beach, and Hotel Cipriani in Venice.
Both created interiors that are contemporary, bright, and lively. For the first time on a Holland America Line ship, the midship Lido Pool takes up two decks, with a wonderful deli and pizza counter on the mezzanine level. Ivory-colored sofas allow views of both the pool and the sea, while lime green, aqua, and orange towels add splashes of color. The beautiful two-story Dining Room is cheerful and light, with sunny yellow walls, champagne-colored columns and arches, splashes of crimson and gold in the hand-blown glass chandeliers, and a wine tower in a curved, copper sheath. Many of the designs also have music-inspired elements. The curvy parapets on the balconies in the Queen's Lounge, for instance, are made from glossy wood reminiscent of the sides of a violin, and the wooden dance floor in inlaid with the image of a violin’s scroll. The music theme continues throughout other parts of the ship, woven into carpets that have borders in the shapes of classical instruments and conveyed in clever stairwell art like an installation made of LPs.
But not everything is new. The Koningsdam also has many of the line’s traditional touches, like a focus on intimate spaces and an abundance of flowers throughout the ship, as well as an Indonesian crew that will make feel both new and returning Holland America passengers feel right at home.
Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.