I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

Are Their Critics Right? I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test

I recently embarked on Holland America Eurodam to host one of my group cruises with some trepidation, because I’d had past fans of Holland America telling me they were falling out of love with the line, based on three recent changes.

So, I felt this would be the perfect opportunity to put these to the test, as I could tap into the thoughts of everyone on my group cruise. And, based on what we discovered, you’ll hear where we found the concerns about Holland America are right, where they are not, and why.

Let’s start with the most contentious issue of all, which is that Holland America are trying to attract a different cruise passenger than in the recent past.

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

Holland America – Changing Who They’re For

They are trying to get more families to cruise with them by offering, and advertising, lower family fares, and even children travelling for free when sharing parents’ cabin.

This is challenging for some of my channel followers, like Heather. She’s a schoolteacher and asked me if I had any close alternatives to Holland America in terms of on-board experience and price, because she must cruise in school holidays and is now finding Holland America less adult-focused and packed with kids during school holidays.

I have experienced this myself. We had over 400 kids aged 17 and under when I cruised on Koningsdam over a recent Christmas.

Previously Seen As Adult-Only

Holland America used to be seen as pretty much an adult-only line, although it never had any age limits and has always allowed kids on board. But it tended to attract couples, often 60+ , with its more classic and traditional cruise ships and daily program. And it was unusual to have families and kids.

In fact, many used to joke about Holland America being a dull line for elderly people with little going on after 9pm.

It is clear they are trying to broaden its appeal to attract more of the fastest-growing family and multi-generational cruisers.

Based on the people on my group cruise, and my own recent experiences of cruising Holland America, we felt there were three things people worried about this should know.

First, we know people can get the classic and almost adult-only experience on Holland America’s more exotic and longer cruises because of the long-haul flights, location, and cruise length. For example, I went on a two-week South America trip on the Oosterdam last year, and other than a smattering of toddlers, it was an adult-only cruise.

Which brings me to the next point.

Finding The Adult-Only Experience

If you want to have a more adult experience, you now need to avoid school and major public holiday in popular regions like the Caribbean and Mediterranean. This is even more key if you are looking at cruises with regional departures.

So, for example, that Koningsdam cruise with over 400 kids, sailed out of San Diego.  On the West coast there are few choices of cruise lines and departures for families to choose from, so not surprisingly Holland America became popular.

Next, building on that and based on all our experiences, you should assume that Alaska cruises are likely to have a high number of families on board. Holland America is one of the leading and expert cruise lines in Alaska. They’ve been there for over 75 years, and they are one of the few lines that have rights to call into Glacier Bay, a must-do in Alaska in my view, making them a popular choice.

And critically too, Alaska is a very popular multi-generational trip, so Holland America works well for grandparents, parents, and kids who want an affordable but premium cruise experience versus a mega ship resort one.

The point I made to Heather, the teacher I mentioned earlier looking for a close alternative to Holland America with few kids in school holiday time, is there is not really one.

Premium Category

Holland America operates in what the cruise industry calls the “premium category” which also includes Celebrity, Cunard, Princess, and Disney, all of which have many families on these days too. The only adult-only line in the premium category is Virgin Voyages. But, in my view, that is not a close alternative to Holland America, with its more “out there”” quirky and youthful party vibe.

To have a similar experience and adult-only, or mostly adult, in the main cruising regions at school vacation time would mean looking at the small-ship luxury lines, which are much more expensive. Viking is an adult only line, but other small ship lines like Azamara and Windstar tend to have fewer kids, as will ultra-luxury lines like Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and so on.

So, it seems to me, and those on my group, that while it is still possible to have a mostly adult experience on Holland America, it is true that it is not guaranteed everywhere as it used to be in the past. Which leads me to the next big issue I have seen many complain about, which may be a consequence of this shift in emphasis. Entertainment and especially a change that has enraged and confused past loyal fans.

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

Holland America – Changes To Entertainment

I get and see many complaints that range from there is virtually no entertainment, to the offering is rather dull and uninspiring compared to competitors, through to one massive, big issue, which is the scrapping of the previously aways busy Lincoln Centre Stage and lack of classical music on board.

Many people say they chose Holland America because of their partnership with the Lincoln Centre Stage and the multiple daily classical recitals.

One of Holland America’s points of difference in recent years was the Music Walk. They had four key partnerships and venues, B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Rolling Stone Rock Room (playing rock of course), Billboard Onboard (two pianists playing various themed sets) and Lincoln Centre Stage (classical music).

Changes Fans Are Not Happy About

But there’s been changes that past Holland America fans are not happy about. Lincoln Centre Stage partnership has ended, and the venue scrapped. And based on recent announcements there is going to very limited classical music on Holland America ships.

In fact, it seems there will only be a live classical music trio on selected European voyages on the main stage and on long voyages in the Explorer’s Lounge.

Another side effect is the popular BBC Earth concert, playing the score against footage from the famous David Attenborough wildlife show can no longer be run as the Lincoln Center Stage musicians were required for that.

Also, they have made other changes to the Music Walk.  While B.B. King’s Blues Club, Rolling Stone Rock Room, and Billboard On Board survive as standalone venues on the three new and large Pinnacle class ships (Koningsdam, Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam), on the 6 Vista and Signature Class ships they have changed BB Kings into a Rolling Stone Lounge with a 6-piece band playing a mix of rock and pop mostly and still have Billboard Onboard.

No Consistent Entertainment

Another thing I see growing as an issue by regular Holland America cruisers is like with the music walk, there is no longer consistent Holland America entertainment across all ships in the fleet. It depends increasingly on what ship you’re sailing on, and now also where.

Though I personally am pleased that they are bringing back the song-and-dance revue-style shows that they had scrapped when they moved to the dance-only shows with Step One Dance Company.

Four new shows are being rolled out across the fleet and include “Song and Dance”, based on Broadway and Hollywood songs, “Class Act”, celebrating iconic female performers, and “Hey Mr. DJ”, a cavalcade of songs from the ’60s through to pop hits of more recent days.

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

Regional Shows

The second thing they’re doing is focusing more on regional shows. In the Caribbean, orchestral steel drum concerts called “Island Magic”.  For Canada and New England, a show called “Breton Thunder”, with Nova Scotia music. In Europe, string music and European tenors with a show called “Chordial Chamber Trio” and the Pantheon.

In Alaska, they’re going to still use the Step One Dance Company with their dance and video projection shows.

Although they seem to have walked away largely from classical music, we all felt, that overall live music is still a big part of Holland America and the way they do it is a plus and point of difference versus many cruise lines. But for classical lovers this is not good news, and I can see why they are not happy.

Poor On Enrichment

There is one other factor that I think is an issue when it comes to entertainment, which is now weaker for me as a long time Holland America passenger. I feel they are less good on enrichment. On most cruises they run these corporate scripted set piece talks, which are visually quite striking and given by the cruise director. They cover things like Holland America history and other general topics not linked to the destination.

However, coming back to the importance of those exotic cruises I spoke about earlier, they do seem to treat those differently. On that South America cruise I mentioned, they had an outstanding enrichment speaker in the form of the Cruise Director Kevin, who lives in Argentina and was on for the South America season to run the sailings and deliver highly detailed port and historical talks.

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!

Ship Differences

I’ve mentioned a few times about the difference of experience based on which ship you are on. And this is where the third area of concerns or issues get raised by long time Holland America cruisers, and that is the move into bigger ships.

But before I get onto that. If you enjoy my content and tips, consider becoming a YouTube channel member or Patreon Patron. It costs from just $2 a month, and you’ll get exclusive bonus content like on-cruise and channel behind-the-scenes videos, group cruise priority booking, eBooks to download, and bonus cruising tips. Click “join” on YouTube below any of my videos or visit patreon.com/tipsfortravellers to find out more.

Now back to Holland America

Holland America – Move To Bigger Ships

During the pandemic, Holland America sold their smaller ships. However, I think there are many positives in what has happened to the fleet, and many of the people on the group cruise agreed.

At the time of recording, Holland America has 11 ships in the fleet with four different classes. The most recent being the Pinnacle class, carrying 2,666 guests, with Nieuw Statendam, Rotterdam, and Koningsdam.

Then Signature class ships, which take 2,104 guests, like the Eurodam we used for that group cruise and Nieuw Amsterdam. Then there’s Vista class ships taking 1,964 like the Zuiderdam, and then two smaller ships, Zaandam and Volendam, that take 1,432.

As you can see while the newest are bigger ships, they are not particularly massive, especially versus competition in the same category as Princess and Celebrity.

I Put THE 3 Big Issues Cruisers Have With Holland America To The Test!


And the bigger ships have brought some innovation. So, as I mentioned earlier, they have more Music Walk venues, and they introduced the Grand Dutch Cafe, which everyone on the group who’ve been on those ships loves. It’s a great place for great coffee snacks and people watching.

They have a much more innovative and high-tech world stage.

They also have a dedicated Club Orange dining room, which is a big plus for those in Suites or who are on Club Orange, which I will talk about later. And they have introduced 12 solo cabins. So, there are some upsides.

Holland America – No Ship-Within-A-Ship Trend

The other big upside I think is that Holland America have not joined the ship-within-the-ship trend, that even lines like Princess have introduced within their new Sphere class, Celebrity has with The Retreat and Cunard with The Grills.

This is where large sections of the ships get closed off, with access only to those travelling in suites. Holland America do not have a dedicated suite-only deck, and while they have the Neptune Lounge for suite guests, it’s small and out of the way. So, they haven’t created lots of separate areas closed to other guests.

In fact, the area that the suite guests eat in is called Club Orange, which on ships other than the 3 large Pinnacle class ships is a section in the main dining room. Any grade from inside to balcony cabins can pay a small Club Orange add-on fee (as little as $15 / £12 a day per person) to dine in Club Orange too, and get other perks like priority embarkation and disembarkation, dedicated fast track lines for Guest Services and Shore Excursions.

The ships also have The Retreat Cabanas deck that again anyone can hire, rather than a deck just for suite guests. So, for example, on the group cruise, one of the attendees, Kimberly combined a good value inside cabin with a Retreat Cabana for less cost in total than the next grade up giving her great outside space during the day.

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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