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HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
Statendam, Ryndam, Veendam, Volendam, Zaandam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam

Holland America Line is a major player in Alaska, sending the most ships in 2006. The line owns Westours, the first company to offer packaged Alaska cruises. Founded in 1947 in Fairbanks, Alaska as Arctic Alaska Tours, Westours originally arranged bus, rail and air trips for passengers arriving on Alaska Steamship Company vessels at Seward and Valdez. In 1957 the Glacier Queen sailed from Vancouver to Alaska as part of Westours programme. It held 120 passengers. This season, HAL's 82,000-ton Vista-class ships will sail to Alaska carrying 1,848 passengers, along with seven other HAL ships.

The big news at HAL is the new Signature of Excellence program which is bringing many changes and upgrades. The HAL Alaska fleet with the exception of Oosterdam will have their Excellence upgrades in place for the 2006 season. (Oosterdam already has dedicated kids and teens centers and will receive other Excellence upgrades during a refit in September following the Alaska season.)

I sailed aboard Ryndam in November 2004, the first ship to be completed fitted out for the new program. She is looking very elegant and colourful with new public rooms and many stateroom enhancements. New entertainment and dining options have also been added. New features include table-side waiter service at dinner in the Lido, a new Culinary Arts Program with show kitchen for demonstrations and classes, expansion of spa and fitness facilities, upgraded Club HAL Kids Centers and the addition of new "Medallion Shore Excursions". The Explorations Cafe in cooperation with The New York Times is a combination library, Internet center, music listening area and sidewalk cafe. Staterooms are receiving euro top mattresses, upgraded soft goods, flat screen TV's and DVD players. Additional in-cabin TV channels include ESPN, Discovery Channel programming and coverage of onboard events. For all the details and photos see my article at http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/feature/HalUpgrades.cfm.

Already available fleetwide as part of Signature of Excellence are the following: Early boarding from 11:30 a.m.; four dining times - two early and two late - ; casual dinner service in the Lido Restaurant; the Pinnacle Grill reservations-required, specialty restaurant with superb service and menu. Aboard Ryndam in 2004 the Grill was sold out every night and lunch was served here as well as dinner. On my Prinsendam cruise in 2003, many passengers returned to the Pinnacle a second time during their cruise, the steaks and seafood were so well prepared and the side dishes, sublime.

The dark blue hulls of Holland America give their ships a classic liner look. On board they strive for a more traditional ambience and they succeed with multimillion dollar antique art collections and original antiques. A personal favourite of mine is the dinner gong which is rarely heard on other lines. Service by the Filipino and Indonesian staff is friendly and attentive. The crew show is a favourite amongst passengers on HAL cruises. Seeing your waiter or bar steward performing their national songs and dances adds to the cultural experience of your cruise as well as being a lot of fun.

The Crow's Nest lounge is the forward facing observation lounge and disco on board the Holland America Ships. The Explorers Lounge is an elegant spot for after dinner liqueurs, cigars or afternoon tea. All ships have a full promenade deck. With the exception of Prinsendam, the HAL ships feature a magrodome over the swimming pool which can make turn the pool from outdoor to indoor, ideal for Alaska cruising.

Statendam
VEENDAM, RYNDAM, STATENDAM

For all the details and photos of the Signature of Excellence changes aboard Ryndam, see my article at http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/feature/HalUpgrades.cfm.

These three sisters have identical deck plans although interior decor is quite different. The Statendam class ships are very spacious and every cabin has a small sitting area. There is a three deck atrium. The magrodome which can be closed over the swimming pool area is a great feature on Alaska sailings.

The Dining Room is two decks high, glass enclosed aft. Views are spectacular but watch out if the seas are rough. The Show Lounge is also two decks with excellent site lines.

These ships now have a Pacific Northwest, specialty restaurant - the Pinnacle Grill in addition to the main dining room. Reservations are required and there is a service charge. There is also casual lido dining in the Lido Restaurant. They also feature a concierge lounge for suite guests.

These three ships sail from Vancouver in 2006 on Gulf of Alaska sailings.



Volendam
VOLENDAM & ZAANDAM

At 63,000 tons Volendam and Zaandam are slightly larger than the Statendam class vessels. Their deck plan is almost identical but they have an additional bank of elevators in place of the escalator of the Statendam-class sisters. Volendam and Zaandam boast 168 deluxe verandah staterooms, an alternative restaurant in addition to the dining room, and an Internet center. Volendam entered service November 12, 1999 and was christened by tennis legend, Chris Everet. Volendam has a floral theme for the decor. Zaandam joined the fleet in May, 2000. Zaandam's theme is music-related complete with music memorabilia in the Casino Bar and a pipe organ in the atrium.

Volendam sails an excellent Inside Passage route from Vancouver that includes both Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm. Zaandam homeports in Seattle this year.



Oosterdam
OOSTERDAM, WESTERDAM, ZUIDERDAM

The first Vista-class ship for Holland America to visit the west coast, Oosterdam will be joined by her two sister ships this year. These 82,000-ton vessel sport panoramic elevators and many innovations which make them the most modern and classy - and the largest - in the HAL fleet.

Oosterdam and Westerdam sail from Seattle this year while Zuiderdam sails from Vancouver on an excellent Inside Passage itinerary that includes both Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm.


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Susan Milne 2006