The Holland America Line (HAL) of cruise ships has a very good reputation in the travel industry. Inspite of that, conflicting opinions about the quality of the their voyages can be found on the Internet at Trip Advisor and similar sites. To paraphrase Honest Abe, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Nevertheless, HAL must be doing something right because repeat passengers continue to book additional trips to exotic destinations, the true litmus test in this business. Whether they travel on the Amsterdam, the Rotterdam, the Oosterdam, or any of the other Dam ships in the fleet, passengers have remained loyal because their experiences have been positive. A recent 114 day World Cruise aboard the Amsterdam was bulging with repeat passengers!
The purpose of this article is not to debate the merits of the HAL ships but to simply point out that HAL does a good job of providing amenities to passengers that might not be found on other cruise lines in this price range. As a matter of fact, you may not find every item on this list in HAL brochures. They are the things you won't know unless someone tells you, which often and unfortunately happens on the last day of the cruise when you have no time to take advantage of them. I cannot guarantee you will find these items on every one of HAL’s ships, but this is my list of interesting and little known or unadvertised perks I experienced on the Amsterdam.
Anyone can pack enough clothes for a 7-10 day trip without worrying about laundry. But what about longer voyages? What about that 114 day cruise?
As with all cruise lines, laundry service for passengers is fairly standard. The price per item can sometimes be steep though, and really add up if you have several items. Most passengers would prefer to spend their money on shore excursions, in the casino, gift shop or spa rather than use it for laundry. The Amsterdam has an answer for those people. It’s called the $20 laundry bag. The idea is, you stuff the provided bag with underwear, shirts, dresses, pants, skirts, anything. They will clean and press it for a flat fee of $20. As long as it fits in the bag, it gets cleaned.
If you like to hand wash delicate items, drying them is easy. Each cabin has a clothesline in the shower. It stretches from one wall to the other. You simply drape clothes over the line or thread the line through each item. And by the way, each cabin has a roomy combination shower and tub.
I’ve never seen a laundry room for passengers on a cruise ship before I boarded this one. There are actually two laundry rooms on two different decks. If you’d rather hang on to your $20, you can do your own laundry. Laundry rooms are especially busy on sea days and a great place to meet new friends.
Washers require coins but the dryers are free. One word of caution to short women – the dryers are stacked over the washers and you may have to ask a complete stranger to reach in and retrieve your knickers.
What kind of packer are you? Do you roll clothes or fold them? When you pull them from your suitcase are they full of wrinkles? It’s against ship rules to have an iron in your cabin, so what do you do? Go to the laundry room. Each one has an ironing board and iron for your use.
On Deck For The Cure
Holland America has raised more than $2 million worldwide to fight breast cancer by sponsoring a 5K walk on each of its ships on every single sailing. For a nominal registration fee, passengers receive an “On Deck For The Cure” tee shirt and wristband. The walk takes place on a sea day when there are no ports of call and participants walk the ship’s beautiful teak promenade deck. Depending on the ship’s size it may take anywhere from 9 to 12 laps to reach the goal of 5K. And the size of the waves can make the 5K a fun challenge. Some passengers choose not to walk but only to donate the registration fee. At the end everyone is invited to the Pink Lemonade Reception where a pink cake is served.
Breast cancer survivors, men and women alike, share their successes, a unity develops between passengers, and new friendships are formed.
HAL donates 75 percent of each On Deck For The Cure registration fee to Komen for the Cure with a minimum guaranteed donation of $250,000 each year.
I’ve always found the food in HAL’s dining rooms comparable to any of the nicest restaurants I would frequent at home. The surroundings are beautiful with tall windows looking out at sea, impeccable linens, and lighting that sets just the right mood. For people who want a casual meal they also offer the Lido cafeteria-style restaurant where shorts and flip-flops are considered proper attire. In addition, several stations are scattered aboard where you can pick up a snack during the day. You would think that all these restaurant choices offer enough variety to satisfy everyone, but this ship takes it a step further.
The Canaletto restaurant is listed in HAL’s printed schedules but for some reason many people don’t know about it. Maybe it’s because Canaletto is part of the Lido. A sign is only displayed in the evening when a portion of the Lido is partitioned off to form this cozy Italian restaurant with limited seating. The food is a step up from the delicious fare in the main dining room, yet there is no additional charge. Reservations are required so passengers need to plan ahead in order to get a table. The menu carries dishes you don’t find in the main dining room and a bit more dedicated service. The chefs have fun here and present some unusual meals. Despite the upscale ambiance and menu items, don’t be surprised to get a beautiful and colorful plate of cotton candy between courses!
This chic restaurant lives up to it's name, a lofty peak, the summit, the zenith of culinary perfection. Although there is a charge of $25 per person for Pinnacle dining, it’s something worth experiencing for a birthday, anniversary or a special celebration. You could not get this multi course meal anywhere in the world for this price.
It begins with an amuse bouche, a bite-size concoction designed by the chef, and moves on to four more beautifully presented courses. At the Pinnacle the finest china supports perfectly prepared entrees like lobster salad,
Chateaubriand, and delicate confections that include chocolate soufflé and other sinful treats. The Pinnacle meal is definitely one of those “died and went to heaven” experiences.
How much do you think it costs to eat at the famous and decadent Le Cirque restaurant in New York where truffle oil runs like water and ravioli is shaped like top hats? If you answered “an absurd amount of money" you’d be right. But wouldn’t it be fun to have the experience? For $39 you can do it on the Amsterdam. Two evenings during the cruise, with special blessings from Sirio Maccioni, Le Cirque’s owner, the Pinnacle presents menu items from the Midtown eatery. The vibrant china carries the Cirque theme, every dish big and small, rimmed with monkeys.
The sensibly sized portions make it easy to taste every artistically presented bite. This must be what it’s like to dine with the Sultan of Brunei, to sup with film stars after the Oscars, to gain 20 pounds in an hour and a half. This is an event, one you can’t pass up with its price tag about equal to the cost of two bags of laundry.
What Day Is This?
If you wake up dizzy from your carb intake at Le Circue the night before and don’t know what day it is, just step inside the elevator and look down at the ever-changing, plush carpet.
Most items listed here are not the kind of things that alone, would make anyone want to sail with HAL. These are more along the line of added conveniences and small surprises that give an additonal level of comfort, convenience, or enjoyment. And don't we all love little surpises?