Revealing the fascinating story behind the crew on Holland America Line

Chef on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam prepares meals at the pool side grill

Chef on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam prepares meals at the pool side grill

I had just got to my stateroom on embarking on Holland America LIne’s Nieuw Amsterdam when there was a confident knock on the door. A cheerful and smartly dressed man beamed at me. “Mr Bembridge, welcome to Holland America. I am Mono and I am your cabin steward. My colleague Otto and I will be looking after you this week.” His chirpy and smiling disposition stayed with him all week that I was in the ship. It amazes me how cheerful the crew on most cruise ships are. They are often working contracts lasting ten months at a time, are away from their family and their schedule requires working seven days a week. All through this time they are facing a constant and changing flow of passengers. Yet the crew usually manage to stay up-beat and treat you as if you are the first person they have seen for months and are grateful of having something to do.

Mono told me he was from Indonesia. As I had not come across crew from that part of the world on other ships I have travelled on, I was intrigued. My interest grew as I explored the ship and realised that most of the crew were from Indonesia and a large amount were from the Philippines too. It was something my fellow travelling companions also noticed and remarked on over dinner. I was sure there was a story, and so I made sure I found out more when I got the chance to meet the Captain, Hotel Director and Culinary Operations Director over the course of my cruise.

Formed over 140 years ago, Holland America largely sailed out of Rotterdam to serve the travel needs of the Dutch. In the heydays of transatlantic crossings, before the birth of jetliner travel, they became famous for beautiful decor and lavish service on ships like the SS Rotterdam. This ship is now permanently moored as a floating hotel in that city. Today they are owned by the massive Carnival Corporation that also owns Cunard, a British line that also has a long and glamourous maritime history and heritage.

Despite being part of an America-owned conglomerate, Holland America Line has tried to retain as much of its Dutch heritage as it can in a modern corporate and global world. For example, many of the senior crew on my cruise were from Holland including the Master (Captain Bas van Dreumel), Marco Van Belleghem (Hotel Director), Staff Captain (Frank van der Hoeven) and Chief Engineer (Bart Rodenrijs). The Dutch Royal Family have named or are the Godmother of some ships. Dutch artworks, antiques and maritime artifacts are dotted around the ships.

However, the vast majority of the passenger facing crew that you come across in dining and hotel services are no longer Dutch but are from Indonesia and the Philippines. I discovered that came about by design and is a key feature of the new “united nations” of Holland America.

The changed nature of the service industry, and the economics of the cruise industry, have meant that Holland America had to turn to other nations to enable it to retain its traditional level of service at a cost that would be acceptable to passengers. Indonesia was a natural choice. Holland has a long history of partnerships and trading with the country dating back to the 17th Century when the Dutch East India company established trading bases in the country. Holland is still one of Indonesia’s largest trading partners and both governments work to retain and build their relationship. The United States has a long history with the Philippines and as that country has a reputation for a high service ethic, it became the other natural partner with Holland America’s Carnival links.

Holland America has established an extensive program on building these relationships.  Darren David Lewis, who was the Culinary Operations Director on the cruise I was on, told me that Holland America have invested in building recruitment and training centres in both countries focused on finding and preparing crew to deliver the Holland America vision.

There is a waiting and cabin attendant staff recruitment and training centre in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and in Manilla in the Philippines is where the front of house training facility is. While undergoing a three-month training the potential crew not only learn the Holland America processes and skills but actually live in the training centre which is designed to create the on board living and working conditions to help prepare and see if they like the environment. As they are making a long commitment for contracts of many months this seems like a good idea as it will be the first time many venture to sea.

I found the story behind how Holland America recruits and builds its family of crew fascinating. They have built a small “United Nations of Holland America” that is focused on ensuring a distinctive feel and shared values. It seems to work as the crew seemed positive, focused and made the experience remarkable. They smiled, they laughed and joked with me. They remembered what I liked and kept checking I was having a good time. Pity the real United Nations is not quite as harmonious..

Captain Bas van Dreumel, Marco Van Belleghem (Hotel Director) and Dave Shea (Cruise Director) on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam

Captain Bas van Dreumel, Marco Van Belleghem (Hotel Director) and Dave Shea (Cruise Director) on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam

Read more articles, listen to podcasts and watch videos I have done about Holland America Line

Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Holland America Cruises on their MS Nieuw Amsterdam ship on a 7 Night Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona visiting Naples, Palermo, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence/ Pisa), and Toulon. Holland America are a Premium Cruise line with Dutch origins dating back to 1873.



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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5 Responses

  1. Edward Tomlinson says:

    Dear Gary, are they descriptions of whats on the plate for purpose of ordering at : Chef on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam prepares meals at the pool side grill. Edward

    • Edwards – Yes, they have all the dishes that you can order from the pool side grill along with the name to help people make up their mind! In The Lido (self service) they do the same for some dishes that the chefs will prepare for you too.

  2. lee says:

    I spent 3 wks with HA in May traveling in Norway and the Baltic states.
    Although I did not have access to any of the officers and higher level staff I did speak with many of the crew members for a post on solo travel I did in June.
    It took almost a day before I realized there were NO women crew members in the dining room…….I was given several reasons for this.
    Also, having most of the staff from one region mitigated most of any language challenges within the staff and management
    I also noted the pleasant attitude almost universally even when I knew the crew had been up late setting up the dining room and back at work early in the morning.
    But I went deeper to try to find out why they seemed so tranquil.
    I was told from one of the Balinese staff members that that is their way of life….to be calm . I interpret this as not to become annoyed or perhaps angry.
    One man in particular was kind enough to tell me more: white night… a special day when NO ONE goes out of the house. They spend the day with family or at home in peace. interesting
    I was also moved by their constant smiles and sense of joy not just duty. you can see some of their faces on just look at those smiles!

  3. clare Stehbens says:

    I so fully agree with the comments and article above. When I travelled on a HA cruise in 2013 I was very impressed by the Filipino and Indonesian staff, many of whom were from Bali. I am now visiting Bali and am again impressed by the wonderful way in which Balinese relate to you. We have much to learn about relating and being.

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