New Ship Enhancements and Programs Aboard Holland America Line
Holland America Line's new suite design aboard refreshed Eurodam.
Rendering of new Club Hal aboard the M.S. Koningsdam.
Kids cooking classes take place in HAL's Culinary Arts Center.
The B.B. King blues band will play in the M.S. Koningsdam Queens Lounge.

At a recent press conference held at New York’s Explorers Club, Orlando Ashford, the new president of Holland America Line, remarked how appropriate the venue was to share HAL’s news. He pointed out the large sled mounted over the door, which was used by Rear Admiral Peary and his aide, Matthew Henson, in their 1909 attempt to conquer the North Pole. Ashford, the first African-American to lead a major cruise line, confessed to being a total newcomer to the travel industry as he noted that Henson was himself a pioneer — the first African-American member of the Explorers Club.

Ashford came to HAL in July 2015 to reinvigorate the company, one of Carnival Corporation’s 10 brands, with a fleet of 15 ships carrying approximately 850,000 guests annually to all seven continents. (Additionally, the company has 11 hotels and 324 motor coaches to accommodate its popular land tours in Alaska.)  From what we heard at the press briefing, his initial moves to bolster the brand’s programming, entertainment and cuisine will be very invigorating.

Smart Partners Enhance Smart Guest Experience

In discussing HAL’s newest ship, M.S. Koningsdam, Ashford introduced the line’s entertainment and culture partners who will guide programming as of 2016. First and possibly, foremost, depending on your taste, is the partnership with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which will guide the selection, casting and staging of performances onboard ships on the Lincoln Center Stage. This news has already heightened the quality of talent auditioning for cruise entertainment positions, according to HAL staff. Additionally, Billboard Onboard and the B.B. King Blues Club will be venues along Music Walk, a new area on all ships. World Stage is where performances will be backed by huge LED multimedia screens.

Holland America promises more focus on music and entertainment, both to attract younger guests and to compete with other lines who stage full-length Broadway shows (Norwegian), Cabarets featuring original material and celebrities (Princess), lavish music and dance reviews (Disney) and after-hours dance parties with DJs (Royal Caribbean). 

To up the foodie factor, six chefs have joined as new partners, including celebrities like David Burke, to both create signature dishes and offer special menu items.

Holland America to Upgrade Cruising for  Families with Kids

HAL carries many grandparents and up to 25,000 kids annually, noted Ashford, but is more focused on couples cruising than on those couples with kids and grandkids aboard.

“I can speak from experience as the father of two travelers,” he said, “boys who are 10 and 14.” Adding that his sons were more interested in seeing new things than in playing on board, Ashford clarified that Holland America orients itself to children in choice of destinations and experiences; lesser focus is placed on kids clubs.

Nonetheless, to allow HAL to deliver on its promise for all ages, their ship upgrades will include outdoor movies, to be shown on deck near the pools. Their new ship (and soon others as part of a fleet-wide upgrade), will have large and stylish Club HAL kids clubs serving the current age 3-17 market, armed with the tech needed to keep tweens and teens happy. There will still be cooking classes in the Culinary Arts Center, and discounts for family reunions and multigenerational groups.

Ashford said their surveys had found that core HAL guests like the line’s classic style, and several hundred million dollars will go into maintaining the current fleet’s appeal.

Staterooms Getting Bigger and Better

Staterooms sleeping up to five persons will become a new cabin category. As part of the announced $300-million brand enhancement, HAL will upgrade suites on its existing ships with new surfaces and soft goods, a privacy curtain, USB ports and outlets for charging devices by the night table, lighted hanging rods in the closets, nightlights in bathrooms, and other comforts.

Among the new amenities for those who book suites will be complimentary mimosas with a room service breakfast, and access to certain of the ships’ lounges and services.

Onboard Programs Grow in Style and Variety

Mat Way talked about HAL’s new partnership with BBC World. Aboard Holland America ships, BBC World productions will be given special broadcasts; live events using BBC specialists will be created for certain cruises. Way used the possibility of a BBC Earth themed Quiz Show, or concerts with featured musicians, as ways that guests could interact with onboard experts in the arts and sciences

Highlighting the partnership’s importance to children’s programming, he said that kids clubs could have “Walking with Dinosaurs” games and other related activities. Given that on any day, more than 50 crews are on location shooting new material for the BBC, the options have not yet been fully explored. 

Cruise Vacation Planning Gets a Big Upgrade

Investing in the trip planning phase is key to being part of the overall travel experience, as well as a way to boost sales of shore excursions and other extra amenities. To meet the stated need for expert third-party content, HAL is partnering with Afar Media, publishers of the cultural travel magazine, Afar, to build destination guides to 400 ports of calls served by their ships. Travelers will be able to customize their choices and preferences as they search among each port’s top 20 restaurants, famous shops and special attractions.

To facilitate the personalization, HAL has partnered with technology company Utrip to develop a personalized planning tool to figure out which cruise is right for which guest, and which shore excursions meet their stated interests. Using the Utrip software which already includes 8,000 destination listings, along with Afar recommendations, will allow each cruiser to customize the cruise to his or her own profile.

Noting that guests are looking for enriching journeys rather than just cruise vacations, Ashford said, “For some, the journey lasts two weeks but the experience lasts years. We want to be part of that.”

A New Ship will Debut Many of the Changes at HAL

In the brief spotlight she received amid the news, we learned that the M.S. Koningsdam will make her maiden voyage in April 2016 as the first of the Pinnacle class ships, with a sister already on order for 2018. Musical instruments served as the inspiration for her interior design and the new Music Walk entertainment area will be an important part of nightlife.

The M.S. Koningsdam will also be the first HAL ship to introduce Family Ocean-view Staterooms. These special staterooms feature more closet space, two shower facilities, complimentary fresh fruit, flat-panel TV with video-on-demand and more.

Lastly, in early 2016 the 142-year-old cruise line will change its logo from the ocean liner with a clipper ship in front to a more streamlined liner. The new tagline will change from “Signature of Excellence” to the more active command, “Savor the Journey” in what Ashford called an evolution of the brand, rather than a revolution.

We’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

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