GUEST POST: EMILY
Why Holland America?
Holland America has long been known to be one of the “old folks” cruise lines. I knew that stereotype had been fading over recent years, but I wasn’t sure how much that had changed until I took my first cruise with the line. I embarked on a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise onboard ms Eurodam in January of 2018.
I am a 24 year-old woman, so anticipating a cruise experience on a Holland America ship left me with many questions. What will the ship be like? Will there be enough to do? Will the bars close too early? Should I be concerned that I’m worried about bar hours? Will the pools be crowded? The cruise experience is something that I’m very familiar with. I did not assume that the experience would be drastically different from my cruises on other lines – and it wasn’t. The biggest noticeable difference was no Disney characters and no action-packed activities a la Royal Caribbean.
Returning to my roots!
So, before I dive into things, I want to say that going on a Holland America cruise was a little bit of my returning to my roots, and connecting with my great-grandparents. Holland America Line is one of the oldest cruise lines still in operation, but they were called the Netherlands-America Steamship Company back in the day (1873 – wow!). My grandmother told me while we were on our ship that my great-grandparents (her parents) sailed to America from Europe on the old ms Rotterdam many many years ago. She didn’t remember the exact year, but I hope I can learn that detail someday. My grandmother is my cruise-mate and financier, and I love spending the time with her and getting to travel with her. She’s been on about 13 Holland America cruises herself; she’s a 3-star Mariner with the line and she’ll make sure you don’t forget it! She’s a ball of fun.
For those who are unfamiliar with Holland America Line, I will scan in a daily programs at the end of this post, just so you can get a look at the daily onboard activities for a sea day and a port day. If you’ve been on Royal Caribbean, for example, it will look a lot different from the Cruise Compass.
So – without further ado, here are THE 10 things that you should know about Holland America Line!!
1. The Lido Pool –
The Lido Pool is found midship on Eurodam, and most of the other Holland American ships. It’s best feature is the retractable roof – perfect to be open on a warm sunny port day. The Eurodam also sails to Alaska in the summer, so it’s a great area to swim when the roof is closed and the weather is cooler. Sometimes it’s too windy to be at the aft Sea View Pool anyways so it’s a perfect mix of both worlds. Plus, it’s right near the Dive In grill…..which we’ll talk about later…..
But, going on – I go up to the Sea View Pool for a nice dip with my rum and coke in-hand on our first sea day. Set my drink down on the pool barrier only to have a gust of wind shoot through and knock my drink over! I cried a little on the inside as I approached the bar to buy a replacement, and decided to discover the wonderful world that is the Lido Pool. They had the roof cracked open to let in the right amount of fresh air and sunshine, and my drink was safe and everything was right once again.
2. The Chocolate Surprise –
The Chocolate Surprise was something that was announced near the end of my cruise, and it took place on the last Gala night of the voyage (Gala night is their formal night). Crew from the dining room appeared in the various public venues with trays of chocolate goodies, all complimentary. I tried a chocolate shot and a chocolate rice krispie type cookie. There was SO much more to choose from too. All the chocoholics out there would be coma-induced from this event. I found the crew with these treats in the Ocean Bar on deck 3 and the casino on deck 2. It was a nice added touch and the chocolate eased the last night send-off blues. According to their website, this takes place on all ships fleet-wide.
3. The Ginger Guy –
Okay, so I’m not sure what his official title is, and I tried to research it to find out, but I had no luck unfortunately. So we’ll call him the Ginger Guy (upon further review – one cruise blog referred to him as the “Yum-Yum Man – can anyone confirm or deny?). If you wanted to settle your stomach after dinner, or freshen your breath, he had a cart of ginger candies and mints, as well as dried dates. He would wait there every night outside the dining room entrance and wait for guests to leave. It was such a different thing for me to see on a ship – but a good different! You could stop by and he had little napkins folded into cones that he’d fill with the mints, or he’d spear a ginger candy on a toothpick at your request. This was complimentary as well.
4. Music Walk complex –
Three AMAZING music venues had been added to Eurodam and several other ships in the fleet over the past few years. It is known as Music Walk and it consists of Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard, and B.B. King’s Blues Club. Each part of this experience has its own venue onboard.
Lincoln Center Stage features small ensembles playing classical chamber music. Billboard Onboard is a music lounge featuring dueling pianos and vocalists singing a variety of chart-topping hits from over the last 50 years or so. On the Eurodam this venue is located right next to the casino so if you’re not sure whether you want to gamble or enjoy some music – fear not, for you can do both! B.B. King’s Blues Club features the B.B. King All-Star band, playing funky songs, soul songs, blues songs, and more. The club on the ship even features signature craft cocktails, some of which were pulled from the menu at the land-based B.B. King’s clubs. I loved the music at this venue! The band was phenomenal, and just about everyone that could get up and dance did so.
5. America’s Test Kitchen –
Holland America Line is a sponsor of America’s Test Kitchen, and onboard their ships, you can take part in demonstrative cooking shows. It is based on the actual television series of the same name. Cruisers are able to take part in hands-on cooking experiments as well as relax and enjoy a live cooking show. On Eurodam, these scheduled events were held in the B.B. King’s Blues Club venue during the daytime, as the club would come alive with music in the evening. I did not attend any of the shows for this onboard feature, but in hindsight I probably should have. I love cooking and baking recipes from Pinterest at home so maybe I could’ve learned a few tricks. Holland America was busy introducing this to their ships over the past year, so it should be available fleet-wide by now. HAL’s website features workshop details and the types of cooking shows that you can find on their ships if anyone wants to learn more.
6. The Crow’s Nest –
It’s a bar – no, it’s a game room. No, it’s a cafe. No it’s an internet cafe. No, it’s a library. No, it’s panoramic sea views. No, it’s…all of the above? The Crow’s Nest on Eurodam has everything you ever need, so you never have to leave! Need a coffee or snack? Visit the Explorations Cafe! Need a cocktail or mocktail? The bar’s right there! Wanna play a game? There’s two panel shelf units with everything from cards to checkers to Chutes & Ladders to puzzles. Read a book? The library’s stocked! Upload some pics to Facebook or check into your flight home? Luckily there are some computer stations tucked away on the starboard side. And if none of that tickles your fancy, there are some beautiful, large windows so you can sit, put your feet up and watch the sea go by with your cruise companions.
7. The Lido Market –
The Lido Market is the buffet on Holland America. It’s just like your typical cruise buffet with the different stations: meat carving, create your own pasta, make your own crepes or omelettes at breakfast, sweets & ice cream, and more. But, there’s a twist. One of my favorite elements to this buffet was that it was NOT SELF-SERVE!!!!!! How many times have you been on a cruise and watched people enter without using the hand sanitizer at the door, or coughed/sneezed into their hand and go back to get another plate and then they’re touching the serving spoons and tongs with their gross hand? Or someone takes too much food on their plate and you watch half of it get wasted because they can’t finish it?
In the Lido Market, the crew working at the stations ask you what you want, and they fill up your plate with just the right amount and there is no need to deal with much food waste (hey, maybe you tried something that wasn’t your cup of tea. It happens) or touching unsanitary serving utensils. However, there are pre-portioned small plates and desserts available that you can help yourself to, and you can still pick out your own fruit and bread.
8. The Mainstage –
The Mainstage is the large theater onboard the Eurodam. There is one tip I have regarding balcony theater seats on this ship. My family loves to sit in the balcony seats, usually in the very front row so heads aren’t blocking our view. But, on this ship, the barrier between the balcony and the floor seats was so tall for some reason? We sat down for the first show we attended in the front row of the balcony, and we couldn’t even see the stage! We’re not a short family, more like a mid-size, but we would’ve had to sit all the way forward in our seats in order to see the full production. We moved up to the next row behind us and it was a better view. It was just a very odd thing. Whoever designed that was probably 7 feet tall and had no problem. All the way around the balcony, not one person sat in that front row at the shows we attended.
Eurodam is going into dry dock this April, and I hope they have some updating planned for the theater. Also an extra quick note – at the shows I went to at The Mainstage, I didn’t notice too much bar service in the balcony section. So if you want to enjoy a drink while you watch a show, you should probably stop at a bar on your way there to get one. And, there is a secret cupholder that pulls out of the armrest of your seat!
9. Dive In/New York Pizza –
Everyone looooooves poolside grub, right? Holland America is no stranger to that idea, and they kind of upped the ante. New York Pizza has different pizzas you can choose from on the menu, or switch it up and create your own. The pizzas you can order have NYC-themed names, like Tribeca, which has chicken, cilantro, mozzarella, BBQ sauce, and onion, or the Grand Central that has tomato, basil, olive oil, mozzarella, and pomodoro sauce. They also have pre-made salads and mini-desserts. This restaurant is complimentary and is located by the aft Sea View Pool.
Which leaves us with Dive In. My favorite lunchtime spot. My favorite snack time spot. My favorite anytime-between-11am-and-5:30-pm spot. They had specialty hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries to enjoy in the Lido Pool area. They take your order at the window and give you a pager. When your order is ready the pager goes off and you can go back to the window to pick it up.
My favorite burger was the Cannonball, which had gouda cheese, bacon, and sautéed onions, along with the special Dive In sauce, which I guess was like a zesty mayo? It was a mystery but it sure was tasty. The french fries came plain, or covered in Dive In sauce, OR smothered in melty cheese sauce. I’m not a hot dog person, but my dad and grandmother both enjoy hot dogs and they were not impressed with the hot dogs on the ship. There is a certain brand of hot dogs (Sahlen’s) that they are accustomed to which is native to Western New York, where we live, and I guess these hot dogs did not match up. This restaurant was also complimentary. And I should mention the pizzeria functioned the same way with the pagers when you ordered, and the pizza might take up to a half hour to be ready if the place is especially busy.
10. It’s not just for the oldies anymore! –
Holland America has, for a long time, been seen as an “old folks” cruise as I mentioned at the very start to my list. Maybe they weren’t always for the oldies but the relaxed pace of the ship life drew in a lot of older people. I saw many families with children onboard the Eurodam, and even for the second week of January there was a lot of kids. The ship does have a host of kids clubs and activities, called Club HAL. They have groups for the tots, tweens, and teens. According to the HAL website, ms Prinsendam is the only ship of the fleet not to offer Club HAL.
The music venues of Music Walk attract an array of age groups since the music spans a variety of genres and decades. The entertainment is family friendly. The comedian on our ship, Kevin Jordan, did his set without dropping swear words and got some of the kids in the audience involved in his jokes. They still have the typical bingo and trivia events that always draw in people of all ages.
They even have a website “app” that you can use on your mobile device during the cruise, called the Navigator. It’s free to use when you’re connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi, meaning you do not have to purchase an internet package to take advantage of this. You can pull up the daily activities (no more carrying around the folded up daily brochure in your back pocket!), view your personal account statement, view and book shore excursions, make dinner reservations and view dining menus, and even purchase internet packages (if you desire – the Wi-Fi wasn’t great in comparison with VOOM on Royal Caribbean which I tried last year).
Another cool feature is that you can add a travel partner from your stateroom or another stateroom to a text message-type chat in the app so you can stay in touch if you split up on the ship. When you get on the ship, turn on the Wi-Fi and open your internet browser and type in login.com and it will take you to the Navigator home page. Then create an account using your name and room number so you can use all the great features!
Should you try a Holland America cruise?!
If you have never cruised on Holland America, I hope this post entices you to try them out! I wasn’t sure how I’d enjoy it as a 24-year old, but I was surprised with all they had to offer once I got onboard. I have cruised with Celebrity and Princess in the past, so if you read this and say, “Hey, me too!” to one or both of those cruise lines, you’d probably really like Holland America. The food was great (Celebrity fans know Celebrity is big on their food), and the pace was nice and easy-going. The crew was not super pushy when it came to purchasing packages onboard or reminding you to fill out the survey when you got home (some lines are like that – any come to mind? I won’t name names).
There was enough to do onboard without having to choose between 2 or 3 different things that were all happening at the same time. The service was so personal and everyone greeted you with a smile and asked how things were going. The cabin stewards and dining crew at your table always greeted you by name as well. Everyone seemed happy to be doing their job and I felt like my fellow guests were friendlier and more willing to strike up a conversation as well. Overall I’d give the whole experience 5 stars. 10/10 would recommend. Emily approves.
Daily schedule – sea day example:
Thanks for much for this one Emily! I have always wondered what Holland America cruises were like. I have to admit I have never looked into cruising with Holland America, I have always just assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the ships were small and therefore boring. I see now that although they don’t have all the bells and whistles of the newer ships the onboard experience sounds really good. I could be convinced to try Holland America, watch this space!
Emily Knab is a college student (for one more semester!!), hotel desk agent, and full-time cruise enthusiast from New York State. She loves to plan cruises for her friends and family and herself. She has cruised with Disney, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Holland America Line. You can find Emily on Twitter here and Instagram here.