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All photos by Jason Leppert
The Koningsdam represents a substantial brand refinement for Holland America Line. From the outside, she looks like a larger version of her predecessors, with the classic dark blue hull plowing the seas, but inside the aesthetic is far brighter and the colors more vibrant. The effect is a more modern look without abandoning the line's traditions.
Favorite venues like the Crow's Nest observation lounge and Pinnacle Grill still come along for the ride, and so do new ones like the Music Walk and Grand Dutch Cafe (seen below), a fresh showcase of the line's heritage. Other familiar spaces like the pool deck have expanded in scale to encompass two levels under the all-weather magrodome, but the size is felt more than on previous Holland America cruise ships, particularly at the Lido Market buffet. Stations are better delineated with indentations in between, but with no clear sense of where lines begin or end, crowds can form.
Besides a few other bottlenecks here and there, the flow of the ship is much greater than before, In fact, the interior design inspiration comes from music, and beautiful undulations and ribbing convey attributes of musical instruments, such as at the cheery white, yellow and red Dining Room. Even the art collection reflects this approach, as most of the dark antiques have since been displaced. But have no fear, a few vintage ocean liner paintings still make a showing.
Cabins onboard are particularly well appointed and continue the same refreshed design. Overall, rooms feel larger, even if only thanks to lighter wood tones that open up the space visually. The only carryover from before is the metallic pewter finish that accents the cabinets and crown molding. Verandah stateroom storage is great and features useful nooks below the flat panel television and off to the side of the closet. Other welcome inclusions are wall hooks and especially USB charging ports beyond traditional outlets.
Luxurious bathrooms are also a step up, with spacious shower enclosures lined with premium glass over a curtain. While it's much better to have the space in the shower than out, the toilet is cramped beside it. It's mounted at a 45-degree angle to facilitate plumbing access, but a slightly shallower angle would help alleviate this. Nonetheless, the bathroom is a pleasant standout, and other features, like a heated mirror that doesn't fog up and a leg shaving bar, are helpful extras.
Activities on the Koningsdam are less innovative and mostly follow familiar offerings from Park West art auctions to Steiner spa facilities. Still, the thermal suite is quite impressive and features a greater variety of therapeutic saunas, showers and a pool (seen below). Unfortunately, access is not included with massages and costs extra. I've only just recently begun to enjoy ship spas, and my bamboo treatment was very nice until this surprising discovery.
The casino still permits smoking onboard which wouldn't be such a problem if it was better contained, but the design of the ship includes a staircase between the gaming and great Music Walk entertainment district. As a result, both cigarette fumes and slot machine sounds periodically pollute the music venues below.
Not affected, thankfully, are the newly dedicated Culinary Arts Center and adjacent Blend, where preparing fine cuisine and blending similarly fine wines are interestingly taught. There's even a very cool set of touch panel stations that showcase chef members of Holland America Line's Culinary Council like Elizabeth Falkner.
Not only can guests learn how to cook at the Culinary Arts Center, but they can also enjoy specialty dinners there too. Menu items feature Cress microgreens grown right onboard and items like Celery and Kale Risotto may, at first glance, be less to mainstream tastes, but the venue appeared full in the evenings. More appetizing were selections in the complimentary main dining room and other alternative restaurants. The Pinnacle Grill remains a favorite and is a particularly great value at lunch as we found for the first time this cruise.
The one that adds up the quickest is Sel de Mer with a la carte pricing, but the premium seafood here is worth the cost, from a hearty portion of Dover sole to delicious Maine lobster thermidor. The consistently tasty fare of Tamarind and Canaletto are also reprised, but it would've been nice to have seen a dedicated venue for the latter by now. At least its corner of the lido is dressed up a bit more than in the past. Of course, included venues like Dive-In for burgers and New York Deli & Pizza, as well as the buffet itself, are also the best in class. And Gelato is a take-it-or-leave-it cost when the line's superb bread pudding is available for free.
Entertainment-wise, the Koningsdam is doing marvelously with its new model of venues. The World Stage main theater has opted for a more intimate space that puts on three performances a night to accommodate audiences. A floor-to-ceiling video wall encircles guests 270-degrees and puts the stage in the center and seating in the round. The audio and visual technologies astound, and the talented performers mostly still shine through. It would be nice to see more than just two production shows during a week's time here, although a screening of BBC Earth's "Frozen Planet" clips set to a live rendition of the program's score is unique in place of a third full show. Vaudeville acts and poolside screenings infill the rest.
Otherwise, Music Walk is the ship's second shining star. Three distinct venues - B.B. King's Blues Club, Billboard Onboard and Lincoln Center Stage - comprise the offering. The first is housed in the Queen's Lounge, a double-decker space this time around with ample seating for standing-room-only crowds found on other ships. The band here is just tops with high energy and chops to spare, but the surprising hit is the piano and string quintet of Lincoln Center Stage that plays everything from classical to pop instrumentally with an expert touch. While Billboard Onboard is a fun concept, pairing on-screen trivia with dueling piano tunes, the vocals weren't quite up to par with the piano playing.
Service overall is friendly and attentive, and the staff at the shore excursions, guest relations and internet help desks were great. Perhaps as they get more used to the new ship, stateroom attendants will exhibit some growth. Ours was slow to replenish our mini-bar and pick up on our preference to leave the trash can in the corner of the room instead of under the desk and chair where it was inaccessible to reach. All in all though, the Koningsdam is a surefire winner for Holland America Line and the brand's future.
Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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