Holland America Line's

ZUIDERDAM

A worthy successor to the ships that have gone before

 

  It has been a fall season full of new ships. In very quick succession, we're seeing Brilliance of the Seas, Carnival Legend, Carnival Conquest, Navigator of the Seas, Zuiderdam, Norwegian Dawn and Coral Princess make their North American debuts. Although all these vessels boast amazing design details, only two are new designs. Zuiderdam and Coral Princess (which enters service at the end of the month) are the first ships in an entirely new class for their respective cruise lines, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Brilliance of the Seas is the second of four (possibly six) ships of the Radiance-class, Navigator of the Seas is the fourth of five Voyager-class vessels, Carnival Legend is the third of four Spirit-class ships, Norwegian Dawn is the sister ship to last year's Hawaii-based Norwegian Star, and Carnival Conquest is the first of four lengthened and more advanced versions of the three-ship Destiny-class.

  For Holland America, the debut of Zuiderdam is particularly notable because it is essentially the first all-new design from the line since the Statendam debuted in 1993. The Statendam begat three more sisters (Maasdam, Ryndam and Veendam) and then that design was lengthened and tweaked to produce the Rotterdam, its near sister Amsterdam and the two twins Volendam and Zaandam. The Holland America fleet consists of eight ships of a very similar (and a very successful) design, along with 1983's Noordam and the one-of-a-kind elegant explorer, the Prinsendam (former Royal Viking Sun and Seabourn Sun). But the Zuiderdam launches a new era for Holland America. Not only is the 1,848-guest ship the first of five new ships in the class, at 85,000 tons it is by far the largest ship ever built or operated by Holland America Line.

  Looking at the ship from a distance in Port Everglades, the first thing I noticed was a marked similarity to the Costa Atlantica, which was literally docked across the street. The Costa Atlantica, in turn, is virtually identical to Carnival's Spirit-class, except for the funnel. There's a reason for all this. The Carnival Spirit was designed as the platform for ships for a variety of Carnival Corporation brands.

 

  The platform was changed only slightly to accommodate the needs of Costa and Carnival but modified heavily to become Zuiderdam. For one thing, Zuiderdam carries 15% fewer passengers than the basic design, which means larger cabins and more space per passenger, befitting Holland America's premium place in the market. But inside, public rooms and their locations (except for a two-deck dining room at the stern and three-deck showroom at the bow) have been changed completely and customized to become the unique cozy areas for which Holland America is known. The most immediate difference you'll notice when boarding is that the nine-deck atrium on the four-ship Spirit-class and two-ship Atlantica-class (Costa Mediterranea debuts in 2003) has been truncated to an intimate and elegant three-deck gathering space on Zuiderdam.

  Also, don't call this the first ship in the Zuiderdam-class. Holland America, in a clever move with double-meaning, has dubbed this the Vista-class. Vista implies the sweeping sense of space aboard (Holland America's tagline is "Space is Everything") because the ships have a high passenger space ratio of 46 and it also relates to the points of the compass. "Zuider" means "south," and the next two ships have been dubbed Oosterdam (east) for a 2003 debut and Westerdam (west) for a 2004 appearance. With four points to the compass and with the name Noordam (north) already in use, there's no word on what the final two of the five ships will be named when they enter service in 2005 and 2006.

  Hopefully, this information will put to rest any debuts you might have about where Holland America comes up with the names for their ships (note Zuiderdam is pronounced Z-eye-der-dam"). Not only does Holland America recycle classic names used throughout its more than 130-year history, the names are also so unique that your clients will not confuse Holland America's ships with any other line.

 

  In the selling points box at the end of this article are many details about some of the interesting onboard features so I won't go into all of them in depth right here. Let me say, however, that the Zuiderdam's interior décor is very much like the other ships in the Holland America fleet because the same designers were used. Bright colors and a rich old world ambiance predominate. The ship simply feels luxurious as opposed to many other new ships which have gone for a look of light elegance. This rich old world décor is perfectly matched to Holland America which is the third oldest cruise line operating today (after Cunard Line and P&O Cruises). Interestingly, all three of those lines might end up under the same Carnival Corporation umbrella if the purchase of P&O Princess takes place. I also applaud Holland America for avoiding voluminous spaces and 10-deck atriums - the overall effect is a megaship that feels much smaller and with a club-like atmosphere yet still has an amazing variety of activities, public rooms and choices. But Holland America still adds a little splash, such as the exterior elevators that provide vistas of the sea and sky rather than an enclosed atrium.

  Holland America's entertainment strikes a perfect balance between trendy and traditional, with production shows that are quite enjoyable and a number of talented bands playing in various lounges. A welcome addition on the Zuiderdam is a secondary "cabaret-style" lounge. The last eight ships have featured a main showroom and a series of smaller lounges. It's nice on the Zuiderdam to have the option of a mid-size lounge with more elaborate entertainment than is possible in some of the smaller venues scattered throughout the ship.

  Dining aboard is a bountiful experience. Don't forget that it was Holland America who pioneered the idea of a casual lido buffet back in the 1970s and they're still the masters, able to offer a wide variety of cuisine along with the ever-popular, almost legendary, ice cream bar complete with a tasty array of toppings. The cuisine in the main dining room was well-presented, served by a friendly staff, of very high quality, always hot and with creative flavors. Carnival Corporation has provided a background for Holland America to continue to improve their cuisine and maintain an edge in the premium market segment. And popular features like hot hors d'oeuvres at cocktail time have remained in place. Holland America gives excellent value for the money spent. The line's alternative restaurant, Odyssey, is the equal of any afloat and truly gives the chefs a chance to show what they can do. It also seats 128 guests, making it large enough that most guests on a seven-night cruise will get the chance to dine there.

  Two-thirds of the cabins have balconies and follow the successful Holland America formula: well-designed, spacious and with a cozy décor that eschews flashy for comforting. Guest feel right at home the moment they step through the door. Guest in suites have access to a special concierge lounge, a nice additional touch. Importantly, and a key selling point, is that this ship is well-equipped to handle the physically-challenged with 28 cabins specifically-designed for that purpose.

  Although you might not have thought of Holland America as a line that encourages children, the truth is that the company's Club HAL is one of the best at sea and the children's facilities are top-notch. Your clients with kids will want to consider Holland America for their next cruise.

  I also want to mention that the Zuiderdam not only has the customary Internet café we've come to expect of new ships, but also has Interent/e-mail dataports in every stateroom as well.

  Holland America has placed its newest ship on year-round alternating seven-night Eastern/Western Caribbean cruises from Ft. Lauderdale. The ship sails every Saturday. Western Caribbean cruises call at Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Half Moon Cay while Eastern Caribbean voyages stop at Nassau, St. Kitts, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay. A quick word about Holland America's private island: Half Moon Cay is one of the very best with clean, comfortable outdoor dining areas, shops and refreshment stands but, most important of all, a powdered sugar sand beach that is brilliantly white.

  The Zuiderdam is an excellent addition to the Holland America fleet. Interestingly, the Zuiderdam platform is being modified to produce a new ship in 2005 for Cunard Line. In total, Carnival Corporation will have built 12 ships for four brands all derived from the same fundamental underlying platform yet each class of ships has its own unique characteristics.

  And make no mistake about it, the Zuiderdam is a ship that makes the most of its design. It is certain to appeal to a clientele younger than you might normally associate with Holland America.