The name Koningsdam is not revolutionary -- it’s a nod to the traditions of 144-year-old Holland America Line. But make no mistake, when it comes to dining and entertainment, Koningsdam embodies the revolution taking hold of this brand.
This became obvious on the first night of a 4-day sailing from Ft. Lauderdale. Onboard, some of us from CruiseWeek participated in activities resulting from several new partnerships Holland America is engaging in, beginning with a dinner in the Culinary Arts Center.
Yes, they got the basics right -- the food was delicious -- but what stood out was that it was a truly fun dining experience, unlike any experienced in our 25 years of sailing with this brand. We heard from the chef in a friendly, unobtrusive way. He exhibited a real joy of cooking, was informative, and knew his craft. Conversation outside of the dining itself flowed easily.
On the second night, we headed over to “Off The Charts,” the Billboard Hits live production in World Stage, where we took in singers and dancers far more dynamic and talented than we had anticipated. The choreography and the interactive screens surrounding most of the room shined as well.
From there, it was on to listen to some country in the Billboard Onboard lounge with music from Johnny Cash to Shania Twain and Garth Brooks performed by dueling pianists and singers. Mellow is not the word for our next stop, B.B. King’s Blues Club, where a beautiful dance floor is put to good use thanks to powerful singers and musicians joining forces for an emotional rendition of mainly R&B hits.
Like the World Stage show, B.B. King’s Blues Club was well populated with all age groups. Spectators ranged in ages from 30 to late 70s.
During a break, we ran into Paul Goodwin, Exec VP for Holland America Group: “I’ll bet you’ve never seen a Holland America ship this alive this late at night,” he commented. “That’s true,” I replied before hustling back to the dance floor so as not to miss Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby.”
While energizing the evening experiences, management has kept many of the essential elements related to Holland America's traditional experiences.
As just one example of not changing something for the sake of change, there’s Half Moon Cay. Our stop there was a reminder of what a beautiful, quiet private island experience can be.
Nothing against the competition, but it was nice not to have the zip lines. There were plenty of water activities, and they’ve opened a new lobster shack, but the truth is the basics were so well done -- the food and drink tasted good, and the waters were warm. Total relaxation.
Back on ship, Holland America trademarks like the Crow’s Nest remain, while some things are gone, like a library. But in terms of design, they are doing change right. There’s a music theme, pleasantly seen in so many of the elements, including the stairwell art and the atrium. But it doesn’t knock you over or scream, “Hey, we’re different now,” nor is it intended to.
It helps to have a President, in this case Orlando Ashford, who understands the importance of culture and change.
“If you’re not evolving, not growing, you’re dying,” Ashford says. “So you have to move forward. The trick is to look at the things that made Holland America Line great and change them in a way to not alienate our previous guests but also invite that guest that maybe had not considered us before.”
He explains the balancing act in music: “We’ve always had music -- chamber music, string quartets -- for years. But now we’re partnering with the best in those spaces. The quality of the musicians, the energy, the brand that comes with that, the standards that they hold us to relative to that has helped us elevate our game.”
Ashford says it’s easier to transfer the things Holland America is doing on Koninsgdam to the other ships in the fleet, like music quality and improved dining, than some of the “whiz-bang things,” which often don’t translate as well on older ships due to size differentials.
“Our strategy is true to our roots,” he says. “A great example is our Sel de Mer restaurant. It has become so popular -- what do we do? We can’t retrofit it completely across the rest of our fleet. So, we’ll have Sel de Mer pop-ups in Pinnacle Grill on Vista and Signature class."
Summing it up, Ashford says, “A whiz-bang in some respects is easy to describe. ‘We’re going to have a ship that does this and spins and rotates and does all that.’ Then you see it and say, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ But to deliver in a consistent way, continually innovating on top of what you’ve always done, I think that’s what wins.”