Holland America Line dates back to 1873 when the then Dutch shipping line began transporting immigrants from the Netherlands to North America. Part of Carnival Corporation since 1989, Holland America Line currently has 15 ships in operation with new ms Koningsdam set to launch soon. I sailed to Alaska not long ago on ms Westerdam, round-trip Seattle and found the line’s current offering a great fit, but not for reasons one might think.
1- Relaxed Onboard Ambience
Unique to Holland America Line to the extent that I don’t think even they know it, the atmosphere aboard ms Westerdam was relaxed and pleasant from the time I walked on the ship until the time I left.
Never rushed, never in a hurry, the crew on board under direction of Hotel Manager Mark Pells runs a confident onboard experience that can be as engaging (or not) as one feels comfortable with.
2- An Extra Layer Of Excellence
I was there to take a look at their Sip, Savor, Sail program, an additional layer of culinary excellence that fit quite nicely on top of what they normally do on each and every sailing. Food-, wine- and beer-oriented experts on board for our special sailing complemented a well-orchestrated onboard product that is a stand-alone hit with cruise travelers. Example: A nightly Sip & Savor event is held in the ship’s Culinary Arts Center (sponsored by Food & Wine magazine) where, on any given sailing, passengers can choose to enjoy a glass of wine and an appetizer before dinner for a nominal fee.
The attraction here is to get the evening started nicely with something like Pinnacle Grill Crab Cakes and the Cellar Master’s Wine Pairing ($5) That this was a Sip, Savor, Sail event brought Seattle Space Needle Chef Jeff Maxfield, Seattle area vintner Bob Bertheau of Chateau St Michelle, Chef Seis Kamimura of Centurylink Field (home of the Seattle Seahawks) and Alaska Brewing Company’s Steve Gamba, all of whom were great hits with guests on board. No extra charge for these guys and that’s the last time I will mention them in this article. They are not what this is about.
3- A Great Stand Alone Value
And so it goes with Holland America Line, breaking down a number of options that carry a nominal fee, holding down prices for everyone and giving great value to those who want a bit more. This is very much not ‘nickel and diming’ passengers. Nickel and diming happens when passengers feel forced to pay extra for the good stuff, the best experience, food, etc. Skip all possible options to pay extra (I did) and one can still walk away from the experience saying “That was a great deal”.
4- Going To Alaska? Go With The Best, Often For Far Less
Holland America Line’s Alaska program offers some of, if not the best opportunities to engage the land of the midnight sun as only a line who has been there and established itself as a leader can. Now partnering with sister line Princess Cruises, also an Alaska powerhouse, there is simply no other line that offers as many options. That’s important because a lot of the Alaska experience happens off the ship, at additional cost. Holland America Line’s strong Alaska presence (they have more ships there than anyone else) gets their passengers top priority on the most sought-after Alaska experiences. Pricing the 2016 Alaska season recently, Holland America Line consistently had the best pricing, especially on early and late season sailings. Actually, they are there first and stay later than all other lines.
5- They Own Alaska- Check with your travel agent or just click around the Internet and see for yourself; Holland America Line and Princess Cruises pretty much own the Alaska market and compare quite favorably on pricing on a $ per person, per day basis. Far more importantly, those dollars go farther on either line compared to competitors. Where this comes into play and really slaps one in the face is during scenic cruising along the coast or in Glacier Bay, arguably a premiere attraction of any Alaska experience. Here you are, sailing along the amazing majesty of Alaska for about the same price as a Caribbean cruise, seeing the same magnificent glaciers, mountains and (on a good day) wildlife for a fraction of what premium lines charge and far, far less than a land tour.
6- Little Features That Can Add Up To A Great Big Wonderful Experience
Holland America Line has some unique elements not offered by other lines, worthy of mention.
- Your Alaska Explorer is a detailed guide that highlights every day of the sailing; sort of like a diary but in advance. This is a supplement to the ship’s daily Today On Location Program newsletter that gives an excellent overview of what to expect at each port of call and onboard as you sail along. Each port is detailed with “Things To See”, directions on where to Shop and a unique feature “Get Out Of Town” that details features in closeby areas that passengers can see and still get back to the ship on time.
- Easy Future Cruise Deposit Program– Like some other lines, Holland America offers a Future Cruise Program that brings a reduced deposit and onboard credit when bought on board. Better yet, there is no standing in line to make that happen with an easy form to fill out and drop off taking care of the matter.
- Location Guides- Like having a personal shore excursion expert in your back pocket, Holland America Line has regularly scheduled time when a location expert is available to help plan days ashore in Alaska. The big difference I experienced: This is not a sales pitch. These guides genuinely want to match travelers with the right experience for them, as it should be.
- Alaska-Themed Events– Included for all passengers, a number of Alaska-themed events and enrichment activities on board. Some examples include a Klondike Gold Rush Dinner, Meet The Glacier Bay Park Rangers, The Wonders of Glacier Bay, a Russian Heritage Event, an Alaska Salmon Bake (pictured) and more.
7- One Final Thought
We commonly suggest that visitor get up in the air via helicopter or airplane to see parts of Alaska just not possible to view from land. We also suggest booking that twice as weather can often cause up in the air tours to stay down on the ground. Exactly that happened to us in Juneau, canceling our airplane flight while helicopter tours were still running. Luckily we had paid attention to our own advice and booked another one for our stop in Ketchikan. That one went off without a hitch and brought some great memories. The video below, while not of our tour, gives a good idea of what to expect in a typical flightseeing tour.
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