Holland America’s newest and biggest ship, Koningsdam, heralds a new ship class — Pinnacle; it takes some of the best features from the rest of the fleet, such as the Culinary Arts Center, and enhances them.
We spent time onboard Koningsdam on its third cruise, sailing around the Mediterranean, ahead of its official christening in Amsterdam later in May.
Even with a new 2,650-passenger ship, HAL doesn’t embrace — and nor would its passengers want, or expect — radical change. The vessel sees the debut of a number of new features, including a French-style brasserie, Sel de Mer; a double-deck, glass-roofed Lido Deck, where you can watch movies in the evening; a New York-style deli and pizzeria; and the line’s first family cabins.
The changes are significant, as it marks an acknowledgement that HAL needs to attract a younger cruise segment, without putting off its core market. Koningsdam achieves this. Read on for our Hits and Misses.
Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center. The Culinary Arts Center is a mainstay across the fleet, a popular spot where you can watch chefs demonstrate dishes. This new venue allows you to watch the chefs in action, then eat what they’ve been cooking. It’s an open-kitchen concept, and semi-interactive in that you’re invited to come up and watch them prepare, create and plate, but you can’t actually participate in the cooking. To me, that was a downside. It would be wonderful if that was an option, particularly for groups. The cuisine is served farm-to-table, and the menu, which has an emphasis on veggie fare, is limited to five choices, plus dessert and cheese. There is also unlimited wine, served in a very French way — two carafes, one white, one red, placed on your table. All this for $39, which is extremely good value. While the line says that passengers haven’t discovered the spot yet, once word gets round, I predict prices will rise (if only to control numbers).
Blend by Chateau Ste. Michelle. Blend is also new to Koningsdam, and it’s a partnership with the oldest winery in Washington State, where HAL is headquartered. It’s situated on Deck 2, on the way to the main dining room and is completely open — both good moves by HAL as everyone on their way to eat got a good look at us pouring, sniffing, swirling and blending. The idea is straightforward: Take five wines, taste them, decide which ones you like (or don’t), and mix them to make your favorite blend. Some readers might think: Hold on, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with wine? Well, apparently not (some of the greatest French wines in the world are blends). Anyway, the seminar was a lot of fun and seemed to work, and you even get to make up a name and design your own label. A suggestion: A few nibbles, such as bread sticks, would have been welcome. The only other downside is that the class is overpriced at $139, considering the session is only 90 minutes and you leave with only one bottle to show for it.
New York Deli & Pizza. Situated on the second level of the Lido Deck, this excellent complimentary addition to the HAL fleet serves breakfast, lunch/dinner and after-hours meals and made me wonder: Why don’t they have this on ship? For breakfast, you can get toast, muffins, bagels, cereals and tea and coffee. At lunch/dinner (served until 8:30 p.m.), you can build your own pizza or order from the menu, which also includes a selection of New York-style sandwiches and salad. After 8:30, the venue converts to a snack bar for movie nights. The pizza is some of the best we’ve tasted on a ship. I found myself here throughout the day and night.
Movies by the Pool Deck. The open-air cinema on the Lido Deck works really well. Grab some popcorn or nachos from the Deli, select a lounger and get a blanket and you’re all set. This is the type of concept that is far from radical (Princess has had Movies Under the Stars for many years), but arguably long overdue. It’s also a perfect pitch for the HAL passenger, who might usually have gone back to his or her cabin and watched a movie in bed. You can also sit at the Lido Bar and enjoy a drink, or get waiter service, and still see the screen. We watched the tail end of the new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” which seemed a whole lot better than when I last watched it on a tiny TV on a plane.
Club HAL. The kids club onboard Koningsdam has been well thought out. Though small compared with some more “family” lines, it is a wonderful use of space, with lots of natural light and enclosed spaces outdoors. While many lines either bury their kids clubs way down on the lower decks, or make them hermetically sealed, HAL has put Club HAL on deck 10 and embraces the ocean — perfect for little people. The aspect we did not like is a “welcome” sign which lists all the reasons the kids club might refuse entry to children, including “irritability or continuous crying” — which is hardly unusual in a child!
Music Walk. The much heralded Music Walk — which includes partnerships with BB King Blues Band, Billboard and the Lincoln Center — doesn’t seem to work the way that HAL intended. While the three venues are situated close by, there’s no obvious link made between them. The main issues are twofold. Because HAL has decided to keep these venues open plan, the clubs lack the atmosphere you’d expect to find. The BB King Blues Band are outstanding, for example, but they play in a lounge which could be on any ship; the only nods to the original club are a recreation of the famous neon sign and a selection of cocktails. The open plan also harms Lincoln Center, where the exquisite recitals of classical music compete with the bar behind it and the two pianos in the Billboard Room. Also, while the whole ship is full of music-related decor, you won’t find it here — an odd choice.
World Stage. Also touted as a breakthrough, the 270-degree screen which encircles much of the World Stage is under-utilized. While Konigsdam passengers may not have been on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class of ships, that line has an Vistarama screen that broadcasts mind-blowing visuals from the whole of the back wall in Cafe270. On Koningsdam, we saw a magician who didn’t even use the screen, choosing instead to use a small camera attached to an overhead projector, and a block of four iPads. The main performance show, One World, though beautifully performed, used the screen merely to project landscape scenes and clouds. It seems like there’s a missed opportunity to use this extraordinary feature to better effect.
The Internet. For some reason, Konigsdam doesn’t seem to have some of the new Internet technologies that are on some of the fleet’s older ships. It was not stratospherically expensive (0.75 cents/minute and $55 for 100 minutes), we found it patchy with low bandwith, so you can’t use Skype, YouTube etc. Using a social media site such as Facebook was also difficult. The system also forces you to remember to log out; if you don’t, you’ll burn through your allotted time without realizing.