There are so many cruise lines to choose from. What makes one stand out from another? The answer to “Why is Holland America Line unique?” lies in the details and things they offer that sweeten the deal.
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1. Longstanding History on the Seas
Holland America Line’s (HAL) rich history and the evolution of the brand is impressive. What began as a Dutch shipping cargo line has transformed into an international cruise line that sails to seven continents.
In 1872, their first cruise set sail from Rotterdam. It cruised from The Netherlands to NYC with crew, passengers, and cargo. This ship was 269 feet but cruising has come a long way since then. Fast forward to Zuiderdam — the first ship we sailed on with HAL — where we we had 936 feet of ship to enjoy!
From 2022 to 2023, they entered a year-long celebration commemorating 150 years of business; we were proud to sail from Boston to Quebec City with HAL at that time.
In the 1940s, after Germany invaded The Netherlands during WWII, HAL's ships were used for the war effort. When the war ended in 1946, a joyous homecoming took place when Amsterdam (II) sailed home from Southampton to Rotterdam. As the Holland America Line timeline states, “During the course of the war, she travels 530,452 miles and carries 378,361 troops — a record only broken by the Cunard Queens, which are twice the size.” We're veklempt just thinking about this momentous event!
In a post-war world, cruise ships were ever-increasingly popular for the use of leisure trips. A pioneer in Alaska cruises, Holland America Line acquired a 70% majority stake in the Alaska tour company Westours, Inc. in 1971; it acquired 100% of Westours, Inc. by 1977.
Today, the cruise line is owned by Carnival Corporation (who also owns a slew of other popular cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Cunard, and AIDA). Yet Holland America Line maintains its own identity associated with the cruise lines' Dutch founding.
2. Orange Party on Every Cruise
Why Holland America Line has an “Orange Party” on each cruise lies in the company's name and history.
The cruise line, which has “Holland” at the forefront of the brand, has roots in the Dutch shipping industry. Yet, for a broader understanding of the connection the color orange has with the Dutch, we need to understand one of The Netherlands' annual holidays.
King's Day in The Netherlands
Every year, on April 27, Dutch people celebrate King's Day, which is the date of the King's birthday. The city is dressed in orange, from balloon decorations on business facades to what the residents wear to parties. The color of Konigsdag, as it's officially called in Dutch, is orange because the royal family is called “Huis van Oranje” or “House of Orange.”
This is why the Dutch-rooted cruise line has an orange party!
What is the Orange Party on Holland America Line Like?
The Orange Party is a blast! Guests are encouraged to pack orange clothes to wear to the party before leaving home. Some passengers go as far as wearing orange sequin dresses, and others accessorize with simpler things like orange jewelry or scarves.
If you forget to bring orange but want to join in on the apparel fun, there are orange accessories like headbands and hats available to buy onboard. This little “shop” is simply a table located right next to the party venue.
When we were on our Boston to Canada New England cruise aboard Zuiderdam, the Rolling Stone Lounge was the place to be for this festive party. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres were passed around, and special cocktails were crafted for the evening. We danced for a couple of hours to the live band, celebrating this fun event.
3. Afternoon Tea Time
Who doesn't need an afternoon pick-me-up? Tea time on Holland America Line is the perfect time to enjoy little pastries, tea sandwiches, and, of course…tea! We loved meeting up with new friends for this time of onboard relaxation. It was quite lovely!
HAL's Navigator app is the perfect resource to find out when afternoon tea — or “High Tea,” as it's called — is taking place on select days.
4. Days of the Week Carpet in the Elevator
You know how when you're on vacation, you often forget what day it is? But sometimes you need to know if it's Tuesday or Wednesday for something back home, like messaging a family member or friend on his or her birthday.
We loved that every day, the carpet in the elevators was swapped out to correspond to what day it was. It was a small detail that we very much appreciated.
5. Canaletto Italian Dining
Specialty restaurants are available for dining on Holland America Line in addition to the usual restaurant that is open for every meal. One night of our cruise, we enjoyed dining at Canaletto. This Italian restaurant had delectable antipastas, fresh salads, and homemade pasta, which I am a total sucker for.
Canaletto also has melt-in-your-mouth meat dishes on the menu, like their Ossobuco or Chicken Parmesan, and seafood options, too. If you want to feel like you're in Italy on the Mediterranean, no matter where your cruise is going, get an Aperol Spritz to drink with your meal.
The small upcharge to dine here, which is around $20 per adult, is completely worth it. If you purchased a “Have It All” cruise fare, at least one specialty dining experience is included. More might be included depending on the length of your cruise is.
6. “Have It All” Pricing
Speaking of the “Have It All” package — it's completely worth it! You can upgrade your cruise fare to Have It All if it's not what you originally purchased for $55 per person per day.
Three tiers correspond to the length of your cruise and dictate how much of each category is included. These tiers are:
- 6 to 9-day cruises (excludes cruises less than six days)
- 10 to 20-day cruises
- Cruises longer than 20 days (excludes Grand Voyages)
Within the three tiers are four categories of what's included:
- Drink Package
- Shore Excursions
- Specialty Dining
All three tiers, no matter the length of your cruise, include daily WiFi and the Signature Drink Package for the length of your cruise. What varies is how much shore excursion credit you get (the longer the cruise, the more credit you get) and how many specialty dining restaurants you can go to.
If you pay for Have It All for your 6-9 day cruise, for example, and only one specialty restaurant experience is included, you can always pay the separate fee to add on another dining experience.
7. Live Music Galore
If live music is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy it across multiple venues onboard. Holland America Line has partnerships with New York City's Lincoln Center, Billboard, and Rolling Stone.
Our favorite place to be at night after dinner on Zuiderdam was the Billboard Onboard piano bar. Two pianos are set next to each other, and the two musicians/singers play crowd pleasers for hours each night. We were singing along all night.
8. Holland America Line Navigator App
Cruise line apps are appreciated when they're particularly functional and useful. Another reason why Holland America Line is great is because of their mobile app. It was very easy to use, especially for finding out what activities we wanted to attend at any given time.
9. Neptune Lounge: Cabanas/Private area
It's always nice when a cruise line has a suites class of some sort that guests can opt to book. Neptune Suites on Holland America Line ships are a special category of staterooms.
Being in this ship-within-a-ship class allows guests access to the Neptune Lounge, outdoor cabanas, and priority embarkation and tendering, as a few examples of the class perks.
10. Bar Events
If a cruise vacation is associated with indulgence, having adult beverages is part of it. Two particular bar events onboard got us excited when we cruised with Holland America Line.
Happy Hour Savings
If you don't opt to include a drinks package with your cruise fare, either as a stand-alone option or with HAL's “Have It All” pricing, you can take advantage of happy hour at select bars around the ship! During our cruise, happy hour started at 4:00 pm and lasted until 5:00 pm. The hour-long specials were for beer, wine, and house spirits.
Although we had a drinks package, we signed up for the HAL Bar Crawl. We wanted the experience.
We thought we would go from bar to bar on the ship and quietly enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine with other guests we would meet. But we were very wrong! Though we met other guests, it was more so a frat party bar crawl rather than the quiet experience we envisioned.
That said, we talked about that bar crawl for months later. The crew leading the event was so enthusiastic! And though we didn’t drink 90% of the cocktails given to us (most were too sweet), we loved traipsing around the ship and singing the song, “We are the Zuiderdam! The mighty, mighty Zuiderdam!” Then, one of the crew members leading the group would yell, “Zuiderdam!!!” And we’d reply with “Bar crawl!!” It was a fun evening activity.
If there are activities on cruises designed to get you out of your comfort zone, we’d say this was one of those for us; we’re glad we did it once.
11. You Can BYOB
Did you know you can bring your own beverages on board? The catch is that it's very specific alcohol and specific quantities. Luckily, the HAL website spells it all out so you don't have to guess.
Here's the synopsis:
- You can bring wine and champagne onboard, with a max volume of 750 ml or less. There is a corkage fee of $20.
- If you purchase wine during a company-sponsored shore excursion (like visiting a winery on a HAL-organized excursion), it's exempt from the corkage fee.
- You can bring your own water onboard if you want. “An allowance of six liters, twelve (12) cans or cartons (500 ml in volume or less) or six (6) cans or cartons (1 liter in volume or less) of water are allowed per stateroom.”
- Guests are not allowed to bring beverages in plastic containers onboard.
12. They Have Pickleball Onboard
If you haven't heard of Pickleball, it's likely you haven't lived in the United States for a while, where the sport has swept the nation! Holland America Line caught onto this sports trend; they converted some of their outdoor top-deck sports courts to be used for Pickleball.
13. They Have Libraries Onboard
One of the things that most surprised us about cruising with HAL was the onboard library. This makes Holland America Line unique in such a remarkable way! Guests are welcome to borrow books for the duration of the cruise in all categories including fiction, youth, and short story sections.
14. Carpets by the Elevators on Stateroom Decks Point to the Forward or Aft
We always appreciate when a cruise line helps guests find their way in a ship’s design elements. On Princess, we enjoyed that the carpet in the hallways was a different color on the even-number stateroom side vs. the odd-number stateroom side. On Holland America Line, we were grateful that the carpets had arrows pointing toward Forward or Aft.
The photos below illustrate the direction of ship Forward from the Port vs. Starboard side. Since these are opposite sides of the ship, they point in different directions for how a guest would walk toward the front of the ship.
15. Board Games and Puzzles Encourage Guests to Unplug
Guests can enjoy games and puzzles provide by HAL. On Zuiderdam, this was in the Crow’s Nest lounge of the ship on Deck 10.
Playing a game is such a nice way to unplug from devices and bond with other cruisers as you work towards finishing the same puzzle or bond with your partner, friends, or family.
16. They Have Their Own IslanD: Half Moon Cay
Did you know that Holland America Line has their own Caribbean Island? In fact, every Caribbean Cruise itinerary makes a stop there during one day of the cruise.
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