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  • BLOG: Review of the ms Koningsdam

    Ship Overview

    The ms Koningsdam is the newest ship in Holland America’s fleet – and it’s a stunner!  I set sail on Koningsdam in February 2017, just a couple months shy of its 1 year anniversary at sea – that experience made me a fan. This is the first ship in the line’s new “Pinnacle” class of ships. Two more “sisters” are on order,  the ms Nieuw Statendam scheduled for delivery in 2018, and a yet to be named 3rd vessel for 2021.   In this blog post I provide an overview of what I loved, what I liked and what I thought needed some attention.

    In my view the Koningsdam is making a statement for the line – an updated and understated definition of “modern luxury” that will attract new customers to the brand while still providing plenty of nods to the past to be familiar enough to the line’s most loyal customers.  “Modern Luxury” is a phrase that will be familiar to loyal customers of Celebrity Cruises and that is exactly the type of customer Holland America can and will attract with this new class of ship.  If you like innovative and fine dining, upscale “buffet” food, appreciate unique and varied sculpture and wall art, all set against a refined and sophisticated color pallet and décor that hints and plays with the ship’s theme (music) rather that hitting you over the head with it – you will absolutely love the Koningsdam.

    I’m an avid cruiser – this was my 19th – but I didn’t specifically choose this ship.  My vacation was booked as part of a charter that bought out the entire ship (check out my blog on the charter experience – RSVP Vacations).  This said, having been on two other Holland America ships (I even got married on one – the Westerdam) I was curious to see what innovations the Koningsdam would bring to sea.  I’ll start with the dining program.

    Koningsdam Dining Options

    On any cruise, food is one of the stars and Koningsdam did not disappoint.  There are several dining venues where the food is included at no extra charge with your cruise purchase booking – the main Dining Room,  the Lido Market (the “buffet”), Dive-In (a made-to-order burger joint), New York Deli and Pizza (also made-to-order), and The Grand Dutch Café serving Dutch inspired sandwiches, sides, and sweets.  My first observation upon touring the ship was that there was a good variety of “inclusive” options.  Over the course of my cruise I found these venues to be anywhere from “good” to “very good” in quality, presentation and serviceThe noted exception was the main Dining Room. I dined here 3 times and I while I found food to be good, the service was inconsistent.

    Next up are the “extra charge” options. These include Pinnacle Grill which is the line’s high end steak and seafood restaurant that you will find on all Holland America Ships ($39/person).  New to Koningsdam was Sel de Mer. As the name suggests, this is a seafood dining option. The venue is presented as a small and intimate space serving a variety of seafood dishes including local “fresh catches” from wherever you are sailing.  In a departure from common industry practice, pricing is “a la carte.” Depending on what you choose, plan to spend between $30-$40/person for a 4 course meal. Canaletto is an Italian restaurant which is curiously located up on the Lido deck near the buffet.  In fact, during the day you can enjoy your Lido Market (buffet) food in the Canaletto space – it’s only during dinner when the space “transforms” to Canaletto ($15/person). Tamarind is also new to Koningsdam – an Asian inspired (think Asian-fushion) restaurant.  The space is gorgeous with muted gold, silver, red and brown tones, but, quite sadly, I was unable to eat here. It was so popular that reservations sold out for the week ($29/person).

    My favorite dining establishments and favorite experiences onboard the Koningsdam were Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center and De Librije.  You’ll find the Culinary Arts Center on other Holland America Ships which are theater style venues designed for cooking demonstrations and classes. However, on the Koningsdam this has been re-imagined to also be a dining experience, hence the name Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center.  It’s quite the unique experience offering just one seating per evening (don’t be late!). You and about 100 fellow cruise passengers watch the chef demonstrate the cooking techniques for each course’s “farm-to-table” inspired dishes.  After each demonstration, everyone is served each course in unison.  The food was exceptional and at $39/person, including unlimited wine (yes, unlimited), I thought this was one of the best value’s on the ship. Finally, there was the pinnacle (no pun intended) of dining experiences, De Librije.  Once per cruise, the Pinnacle Grill venue is “transformed” into De Librije,  a 3-star Michelin restaurant, located in the Netherlands about an hour and half east of Amsterdam.  For $49/person you are served a 5-course meal that, in my experience, truly represented the culinary craft of a Michelin rated dining establishment. This was by far my dining highlight of the cruise!  For a more detailed read on Koningsdam dining options, and specifically a course-by-course “tour” of my experience at De Librije, check out my detailed dining review blog on the ms Koningsdam.

    Blend & Notes

    Another innovation on the Koningsdam is Blend. An intimate 12-seat space designed for wine tasting and, as the name suggests, personalized wine blending.  The experience is the result of a partnership between Holland America and the Chateau St. Michelle winery based in Washington state. I live in the Seattle area and have made many trips to this winery, but never had an experience like the one offered on Koningsdam.  For about an hour, our sommelier walked the group through a series of 5 wine tastings while highlighting the winery, the wines of Washington and the concept of blending different varietals of wines to suit your palette.  After the tasting everyone had an opportunity to create and sample 2 personalized blends – and then choose one for bottling.  At $129/person it was not inexpensive – nonetheless it was a highlight of our cruise and I would advocate any wine enthusiast (or wine lover) to try it.  I left wondering why Chateau St. Michelle doesn’t offer a similar experience at its winery?

    If spirits are also of interest, try Notes – a whiskey tasting venue. I love whiskey, but sadly missed this experience.  Notes is an intimate circular bar offering a chance to sample over 130 whiskeys (or so I heard).  It’s on my list for next time I cruise the Koningsdam!

    Entertainment and Bars

    In an industry where mega ships topping two hundred thousand gross tons are becoming more common, the Koningsdam, at just 99,836 gross tons, is decidedly a “mid-size” ship experience.  This said, it’s the largest in Holland America’s fleet and I was curious how (and if) the more intimate feel that Holland America ships are known for would be compromised.  It wasn’t.  The ship’s design does an excellent job taking advantage of the larger footprint without compromising a mid-size ship appeal.  A great example of this is the World Stage – or the main theater located forward (the front) on the ship.  While it is definitely a grand 2-story space, at only 650 seats (approx.) it’s also one of the smaller theaters on modern cruise ships. Instead of 2 shows per night, there are 3, which helps to manage crowds and create the feeling of a smaller ship.  One feature of this venue that impressed me was a 270 degree LED screen that was put to effective use during several of the production shows.  While the production itself was fairly typical of the cruise show experience (think, off, off Broadway productions), that huge screen was used to amplify storytelling and emotion and really left me wanting more.

    As I wrote earlier, the theme of the ship is music and the entertainment venues along deck 2, billed as the “Music Walk,” are designed to embrace this theme.  For example, Lincoln Center Stage is yet another new innovation on the Koningsdam.  In what Holland America is billing as “an exclusive partnership with the world’s leading center for the performing arts” (i.e., Lincoln Center in NYC) this space is designed for guests to listen to regularly scheduled live chamber music (classical) performances.  It’s a fantastic concept. Unfortunately, the design of this space slightly diminished what would otherwise have been some thoroughly enjoyable and elegant performances. Since it’s a totally open space, directly adjacent to a main walkway and other music venues, the carry over noise was distracting.  This seems to be an easily solvable problem – and I’m hoping Holland America will eventually erect some strategically placed walls to keep such distractions out.

    Billboard Onboard is a lounge that features “dueling pianos,” a DJ, and a guitarist performing different genres of music each evening. It’s also an open space located directly across from Lincoln Center Stage – so you get the picture of how the music from these two venues compete with each other (and not always in the best way).  I also spent several evenings in the Queen’s Lounge which is used for live musical performances and dancing.  The chandeliers in this space reminded me of those at the Met Opera in NYC, and are perhaps a nod to the Lincoln Center partnership. This is a 2 story space that feels both grand and intimate and I loved sipping cocktails here in the evening while listening to live music.  There’s a smattering of other bars around these all these venues to ensure you’re never too far from a glass of wine or a cocktail – as it should be on any cruise vacation.

    Another area that I spent a lot of time in was the Crow’s Nest.  This is a lounge area on the upper deck forward of the ship.  You’ll find a Crow’s Nest on many Holland America ships and, on a personal note, I got married in this venue on the Westerdam.  This is a gorgeous lounge area and a great place to have a cocktail, read a book, play cards or board games, or just relax and watch the sea go by as you sail to your next port of call.

    Pool, Spa and Fitness

    Also on the upper decks of the ship are the two pool areas. First is the Sea View Pool located aft (in the back) of the ship offering, as its name suggests, draw dropping views of the sea as you sail.  On the port (left) side of this area is also one of the designated smoking areas.  I personally can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke but I spent a lot of time at this pool and it didn’t bother me at all.  It’s open air and somewhat breezy so that seemed to minimize any smell of smoke. Walking from this pool to mid-ship you’ll run into the Lido Pool.  The two biggest features of this pool area are the retractable roof which will come in handy on colder weather itineraries or rainy days.  Additionally this area features a large LED screen for movies which a first for Holland America but increasingly common on many modern ships.  Walking further forward to the front of the ship and you’ll find the Greenhouse Spa and Fitness Center.  Although the Fitness Center offered a good variety of weight and aerobic equipment I was surprised it was so small, especially for the size of this ship. It was always packed (at least during the times I wanted to go).  It may have felt small because the space is divided up and includes dedicated rooms for spinning classes and other specialty fitness programs which is also kind of cool. The Greenhouse Spa is exactly what you would expect – a tranquil space for a variety of spa treatments – the centerpiece being a dedicated relaxing therapy pool which I also sadly did not try out. Next time!

    Staterooms

    I stayed in stateroom 6011 – which is a category “VD” Verandah stateroom. More simply said this is the most common type of stateroom on the ship encompassing a variety of categories (VA, VB, VC, VD, VF, VH – and possibly more). While these categories are all quite similar, and offer the same amenities, the differences are mostly related to the stateroom’s location and size (and therefore, its price point).  Since I only experienced this type of stateroom – it’s the one I’ll review, but obviously there are more options including everything from interior staterooms to large suites.

    The efficiency in which these rooms are designed never ceases to amaze me. Although a relatively small space (228+ square feet) you can fit a lot of luggage and items into storage nooks everywhere.  I felt the rooms on Koningsdam were more efficiently designed than similar rooms on the Celebrity Solstice Class and Princess Regal class ships I recently cruised.  My favorite feature by far was the bathroom – and specifically the shower. It was large, occupying the full width of the bathroom, and completely enclosed by glass frame doors. However, since so much space was dedicated to the shower, the toilet was somewhat oddly placed at an angle, and taller folks like myself will find their knees hitting the shower door – which I found to be a minor inconvenience.

    Overall the room was decorated in muted tones of greys and blues giving it a warm and cozy feel. The bed was very comfortable (a medium firm/softness) and fully squared off (unlike some ships I’ve been on where the end corners are rounded off to save on space).  There are reading lights at each end of the bed which is helpful if your partner wants to stay up reading and you want to catch some sleep.  Outlets at each side of bed make phone charging easy.  There’s also ae 42” LED TV screen and many other standard amenities you can find here.  Finally – there’s the veranda.  Those views are worth every penny!  As an aside, if you managed to book a “partially obstructed” view, or “VH” category stateroom, it does come with a bonus: an extra-large balcony.  Friends booked this category of room – which are located on deck 4.  They paid less, and the view was only obstructed in that the verandah “wall” was made of iron instead of being all glass.  If you want a larger balcony at potentially less cost, this is one way to go.

    Overall, most cruise passengers will find the basic verandah category of room will meet their needs.

    Summary

    Overall, I was really impressed with the Koningsdam.  The ship’s design felt new, modern and streamlined.  I appreciated the musical theme and the way it was represented on throughout ship – an old cello transformed into a sailing vessel as a piece of sculpture art, flower arrangements featuring musical instruments, and subtle design details that evoked the fluidity of music. The range and quality of dining options were on par – if not better than – my experience on other ships in this class. There is an attention to upscale quality and detail apparent everywhere. For example, all the flowers are real and there is enough unique and interesting art to even make walking the stairwells an enjoyable experience.  The standard verandah staterooms are well designed to maximize both comfort and efficiency.   The innovations onboard – like Blend, De Librije, and Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center – where highlight experiences that really made me want to return to Koningsdam and its forthcoming sister ships. This was my 19th cruise, and my 3rd on Holland America. I will definitely be back for a 4th Holland America cruise.

    In addition to the pictures shown in this blog – check out more here, and also check out my GoPro video tour of the ship here. Your comments or questions are also welcome below!

  • GoPro Tour of the ms Koningsdam Upper Decks

    Check out my GoPro Tour of Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam Upper Decks including the pools, dining venues, fitness center, spa and lounges. You’ll get my personalized take on what it’s like to sail on the Koningsdam!

  • GoPro Tour of the ms Koningsdam Upper Decks

    Check out my GoPro Tour of Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam Upper Decks including the pools, dining venues, fitness center, spa and lounges. You’ll get my personalized take on what it’s like to sail on the Koningsdam!