And an honorable mention…
By Liam P. Cusack
New York, NY – March 30, 2017. Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam, introduced last year, already has a fiercely loyal following. The ship may not be the largest in the world, a mid-sized ship weighing in at 99,500 tons with a passenger capacity of 2,650 passengers, but this accentuates her charm. Stepping on board passengers are immediately drawn into her. Her interiors are inspired by the lines, curves, and shapes of musical instruments. The design is not obvious, which is why it works. Once caught in the flow the inspiration makes itself known, the curved balconies of the Queens Lounge become reminiscent of a violin. The design strikes the right note and soon passengers become part of the music.
The ship’s design and size are just two reasons why the ms Koningsdam is a remarkable ship. Here are 15 other reasons why the Koningsdam is so special and why you should go and become one with the flow.
1. Music Walk
The flow I describe begins from the moment you step aboard. You’ll be drawn into the ship by the flow of her design. If embarking, as I did, on Plaza Deck (Deck 2), you’ll be greeted by the atrium with its stainless steel sculpture which famed designer, Adam D. Tihany says, “represents the synthesis of a string quartet.”
Tihany, who designed most of the interiors of the ship, utilizes a host of metals, woods, textures and fabrics in combination with a color palate that hits just the right note.
The atrium is the heart of the ship and draws you into Music Walk which brings you through three different stages and sets the overall tone for the artwork and design of this ship.
2. Lincoln Center Stage
One of those stages is Lincoln Center Stage, a unique partnership with New York City’s famed Lincoln Center, the world’s leading center for the performing arts. Here you will see outstanding musicians performing multiple programs of chamber music each evening, as well as afternoon recitals during days at sea.
I have yet to experience a performance at Lincoln Center Stage, but I have enjoyed Holland America’s presentation of classical music on other ships in the fleet. They are always a highlight for me, so I can only imagine how exceptional the Lincoln Center Stage performances are. The performance space is stunning and you’ll be able to tell that Holland America is proud of this partnership.
Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Line says, “Classical music has been one of the many hallmarks of a Holland America Line Cruise, and to partner with an organization as esteemed as Lincoln Center takes our program to an entirely new level.”
3. Sel de Mer
Just off the atrium is Sel de Mer, one of the alternative restaurants which you will find on board. It is the brainchild and creation of Rudi Sodamin, Holland America Line’s Master Chef and Chairman of their Culinary Council.
The space is inviting, intimate and charming, and you’ll feel as though you were in a Provencal brasserie. The Koningsdam is the first of Holland America ships to have this intimate seafood brasserie which offers a modern twist on timeless French classics. Traditionally dressed waiters bring to you everything from bouillabaisse, fruits de mer, and seafood chowder to an entire salt-crusted fish. You will be able to choose your evening meal from a selection of fresh fish and shellfish presented on ice in the center of the room. Whenever possible Sel de Mer’s chefs will go ashore and bring back fish caught locally that very day.
4. Grand Dutch Cafe
One of my favorite places on board, and according to highly-placed sources in Holland America Line’s office, one of the favorite gathering places among those who work for the line. The cafe, located midships on Promenade Deck (Deck 3), its design inspired by the signature blue and white Delftware, and here you can stop for a minute, enjoy some of the best coffee I’ve ever had along with some Dutch baked delights. If it’s later in the day you can treat yourself to a crisp Dutch pale lager and snack. The cafe is unique, and a welcome alternative to traditional cruise ship casual dining.
5. The World Stage
The World Stage is a game-changer and a complete break with what we all think of showrooms at sea. It is a flexible space that can have multiple stage configurations, ranging from in-the-round to the more conventional proscenium staging. In its inaugural year the theater played host to five new productions performed in repertory by a cast sourced from around the world.
Entertainment meets innovation with a new main theater design that surrounds the audience with a 270-degree LED screen. The stage is two-stories high and 250-feet long. The high definition LED screens make it one of the most unique showrooms at sea capable of presenting an exciting variety of performances and productions. The stage is enhanced by state-of-the-art lighting projection and sound systems which enable to stage to change and become anything a director can imagine.
This past November Holland America announced an exclusive partnership with BBC Earth where you’ll be able to experience amazing high def nature footage in concert with, a concert. One of these programs is called “Frozen Planet: A Visual and Musical Journet.” This performance combines live music against the backdrop of BBC Earth’s breath-taking footage from the landmark series, “Frozen Planet.”
6. Culinary Arts Center
This is one of my favorite areas on the ship. The Culinary Arts Center is presented by Food & Wine Magazine and is a fully-dedicated show kitchen with individual cooking stations which are used for cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes by visiting celebrity chefs and Holland America’s own experts and members of their Culinary Council. Additionally, the center will be transformed to replicate the television set of of America’s Test Kitchen (ATC). Holland America Line partnered with ATC last September. The shipboard shows will be hosted by Holland America chefs trained by ATC culinary experts. In addition to the classes, you can catch up on episodes of ATC in your stateroom since you will have 24-hour access to episodes of ATC.
The Culinary Arts Center truly shines in the evening when it transforms into a new dinner concept, an immersive farm-to-table experience where chefs prepare simple. artisanal dishes in the show kitchen and you enjoy each course as it is prepared. Large screens broadcast live from the kitchen as your courses are being prepared. It is an exciting event served with high energy by the Holland America team. The meals are a delight since all elements are fresh and thoughtfully sourced and prepared. There is even a glass-enclosed growing area just off the kitchen where fresh herbs and micro-greens are grown and used in your meal. That truly is farm-to-table!
7. Blend & Notes
These two venues are among my favorites at sea. At Blend you can learn to be a “Winemaker for a day.” Whether you are a wine snob or an amateur at Blend you will experience a hands-on wine blending and tasting activity on board in collaboration with Chateau Ste. Michelle. Regardless of where the Koningsdam is at Blend you will transported to the vineyard of Washington State where, with the ship’s wine expert, you will create your very own red wine blend from five Chateau Ste. Michelle single-vineyard barrels. Later you can enjoy your special bottle of wine at dinner or in the privacy of your stateroom.
I was in my true element at Notes. I hesitate to even call it a bar, it is an experience. Notes boasts an impressive collection of more than 130 whiskeys. At Notes you can sample all those single-malts you’ve always wanted to. It is located near the Explorer’s Lounge, but remains intimate and club-like. You’ll sit in wonderfully comfortable low-rise leather seats, reminiscent of club chairs, surrounded by some of the world’s finest scotches, bourbons, and whiskeys.
8. Family Staterooms
Since multi-generational cruising continues to grow in popularity, Holland America Line has introduced new Family Ocenview staterooms that make traveling together more convenient and pleasurable. These staterooms can accommodate up to five guests and boas additional closet space and two separate shower facilities. These staterooms measure in at 222-231 square feet, well above the industry standard.
9. Single Oceanview Staterooms
Finally, cruise lines are beginning to think of the solo traveler. For years solo travelers were forced to pay a high premium for sailing alone, sometimes up to 200%! Since there are more people choosing to travel alone, Holland America has now introduced staterooms exclusively designed for the single traveler. These oceanview staterooms are spacious and are chock full of all the best amenities Holland America Line has to offer.
10. B.B. King’s Blues Nightclub
The Queens Lounge is transformed most nights into a Memphis Blues Club, but not just any blues club, it is transformed into B.B. Kings Blues Club. At night you’ll feel the Beale Street rhythm and dance the night away. My wife and I were skeptical but the eight-piece band brought blues, funk and soul on board. It is rare these days to see such large bands on board ship…deejays and solo performers seem to be the norm, but here the Queens Lounge rocked to the sound of live music! Special shout-out to the brass especially the trombone!
11. Billboard OnBoard
This is not your typical piano bar. Don’t expect to sit around and sing Billy Joel’s Piano Man a few times per night. First of all there are two pianos driven by exceptional artists as well as a DJ & guitarist. These accomplished professionals create an interactive experience that celebrates 50+ years of chart-topping hits. This is all made possible by a partnership with Billboard magazine. As with many other venues on board you’ll easily get lost in the music and rhythm of the night.
12. Dive-In Burgers & Dogs (and fantastic fries too!)
Located poolside is Dive-In and some of the best burgers, dogs and fries I’ve ever had. I love all the gourmet options on board but sometimes you just crave a good burger, dog and fries, and here your cravings will be satisfied. As I write this I’m already craving a Dive-In dog. All the food is made to order and generally within 10 minutes or less your craving becomes a reality. I recommend the Cannonball burger topped with Gouda cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, sweet caramelized onions topped with lettuce, tomato, and special Dive-In Sauce (Which puts the golden arch’s sauce to shame) all on a freshly toasted brioche bun. There are rumors that soon you’ll be able to order Dive-In as room service, I hope so. On one cruise my wife started binge-watching Downton Abbey on the in-stateroom entertainment system and tasked me with being her personal Dive-In Delivery Boy.
13. Pinnacle Grill; Tamarind; Canaletto; Lido & La Fontaine Dining Room
These dining venues can be found most other Holland America Ships, but the design of these spaces elevate the experience to a completely different level of dining.
The fabulous La Fontaine Dining Room, the ship’s main dining room, just exudes elegance and celebration.
The Pinnacle Grill, a steakhouse with a Northwestern flair, is intimate with a degree of sophistication that will put must landside steakhouses to shame. Try the President’s Cut steak, a 36-ounce bone-in rib eye cut hand-picked by Holland America’s President Orlando Ashford. It is a bit pricey but well worth it. (Still less expensive that most landside steakhouses…and better quality.) It is a challenge, but one worth conquering!
Lido Market, the casual self-service eatery has everything you can ever want. Choose anything from custom-made salads and sandwiches to fresh fish, sliced prime-rib to Indonesian specialties and pasta.
Canaletto is the alternative Italian restaurant open in the evenings and serving fresh made pasta and such Italian specialties such as Carpaccio and Chicken Saltimboca. It is a relatively modest charge, but well worth it and memorable.
You’ll also be able to find the Tamarind Restaurant on board. The Koningsdam is the third Holland America Ship to offer this restaurant which evokes the rich culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, China and Japan. It is an alternative dining venue, with a modest charge, but here you’ll delight in some of the best Sushi and Dim Sum I’ve ever had…plus they serve some amazing Sake cocktails!
14. Koningsdam’s Art Collection
Holland America Line has always been known for curating some of the finest art collections at sea, and the Koningsdam continues this great tradition. Throughout the ship are wonderfully whimsical works of art, inspired by the ship’s musical theme and Holland America Line history. These works of art are everywhere and not only spur conversation but also provide some amazing Instagram moments. I am hoping that Holland America will release a walking-tour podcast for the Koningsdam, the line offers such downloadable podcasts on other ships. It is a delight to wander the ship and discover these amazing works of art, learn about the artist and backstory.
15. Legendary Holland America Line Service
You can build an amazing ship, but all the design, artwork and beauty is all for nought if the service is lacking. I’ve been on some stunning ships but the service fell far short of the ship’s aspirations, leaving me disappointed. I’ve been on ships that may be considered tired and dated, but the service went above and beyond and gave me treasured memories. I’m happy to report that this delicate balance of service and beauty has been achieved on board Koningsdam.
Holland America Line has built its reputation on “World Class Service and Style.” Holland America Crew are trained in dedicated training centers. One is located in the Philippines and one in Indonesia. The training program is rigorous and difficult, I doubt I’d be able to pass the program, but it pays off.
Service isn’t just learning how to place a plate down, it’s more than that. It’s the little things, the things the crew do to make you feel more comfortable, pampered…special. Not only that, the crew love what they do and have a passion for their work. It is a demanding and difficult job but they make it look so easy. I have never had a poorly crafted Manhattan on any Holland America ship. I have always felt warmly greeted by those who work on board. To this day I am astounded by the crew’s memory and ability to recognize the passengers. Within a day of being on board crew members will greet you by name and will remember exactly how you like your coffee or Martini. It’s this level of service that elevated the Koningsdam to greatness.
Honorable Mention to Dale DeGroff, Holland America Line’s Master Mixologist:
Dale DeGroff’s Signature Cocktails
Last September Holland America Line entered into a partnership with 2015 James Beard’s Who’s Who Inductee, Master Mixologist, Dale DeGroff. He has brought an innovative menu of creative cocktails to enhance your experience. DeGroff developed skills, techniques and expertise while tending bar at various notable establishments including New York’s famed Rainbow Room. Some of the cocktails he has introduced include the Midnight Sun (created to celebrate Holland America’s 70th Anniversary of sailing to Alaska), the Hemingway Daiquiri, Gallery Gimlet, and the Ritz Cocktail – a dazzling champagne cocktail presented with a burst of flamed orange peel.
I wish I could create Mr. DeGroff’s cocktails at home, and so does my wife. I guess we’ll just have to look forward to our next Holland America voyage.
Editors Note: Special thanks to Holland America Line for some images.