Holland America Line
These ships are well made and designed, and for some, a perfect midsize in this age of gigantic circuslike megas. Public areas are functional and appealing, with just a dash of glitz and plenty of classic European and Indonesian art.
Typical Per Diems: $90-$195
Maasdam sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring); and New England/Canada from Fort Lauderdale, Boston & Montreal (summer, fall).
Ryndam sails the Caribbean from Tampa (winter, spring).
Statendam sails the Panama Canal from Fort Lauderdale & San Diego (winter, spring, fall), Alaska from Vancouver & Seward (summer) and Coastal from Vancouver (fall).
Veendam sails Bermuda from New York (summer, fall).
Refreshingly intimate, agile, and handsome looking, these four vessels are, like all the HAL ships, extremely well laid out and easy to navigate. Holland America's 55,451-ton Statendam-class ships are cozy at one-third the size of today's biggest megas and, relatively speaking, are classics at ages from 12 to 15 years. Decor is a subdued scheme of earthy tones and traditional artwork. Touches of marble, teak, polished brass, and multimillion-dollar collections of art and maritime artifacts lend a classic ambience, and many decorative themes emphasize the Netherlands' seafaring traditions. The onboard mood is low-key (though things get dressy at night), the cabins are large and comfortable, and there are dozens of comfortable nooks all over the ships in which you can curl up and relax. And, there's hardly anything more appealing about a ship than a sleek hull with a dark paint job, tiered aft decks, and a long sweeping foredeck -- these are covered in teak, offering passengers a great place to view the passing scenery.
The Statendam-class ships have been upgraded recently and now feature HAL's Signature of Excellence enhancements, most notably an Explorations Café Internet center, improved kids' facilities, a Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen, upgraded cabin amenities, a pizzeria and large LED movie screen at the pool area, new bars, and a nightclub.
Cabins are roomy at 186 to 197 square feet, unfussy, and comfortable, with light-grained furniture and fabrics in safe shades of blue, beige, and burgundy. All cabins have twin beds that can be converted to a queen and, in some cases, a king, all with plush triple-sheeted mattresses and 100% Egyptian cotton bed linens -- the most comfortable cruise ship beds that our coauthor Heidi has ever slept on. About 200 cabins can accommodate a third and fourth passenger on a foldaway sofa bed and/or an upper berth. Closets and storage space are larger than the norm, and bathrooms are well designed and well lit, with bathtubs in all but the lowest category. All cabins have personal safes and music channels, plus flat-panel TVs and DVD players, terry-cloth bathrobes, massage shower heads, lighted magnifying makeup mirrors, and salon-quality hair dryers. There's also a handful of new spa cabins.
Outside cabins have picture windows and views of the sea, though those on the Lower Promenade Deck have pedestrian walkways (and, occasionally, pedestrians) between you and the ocean. Special reflective glass prevents outsiders from spying in during daylight hours. To guarantee privacy at nighttime, you have to close the curtains. No cabin views are blocked by dangling lifeboats or other equipment.
Minisuites are larger than those aboard some of the most expensive lines, such as SeaDream. Full suites are 563 square feet, and the Penthouse Suite sprawls across a full 1,126 square feet. Suite passengers have the choice of three pillow types.
Six cabins are outfitted for passengers with disabilities, and public areas are also wheelchair-friendly, with spacious corridors, wide elevators, and wheelchair-accessible public toilets.
These ships have elegant, two-story main dining rooms at the stern, with dual staircases swooping down to the lower level for grand entrances and a music balcony at the top where a duo or trio serenades diners. Ceilings are glamorous with their lotus-flower glass fixtures, and two smaller attached dining rooms are available for groups. HAL's specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill"), has a classy, more modern feel to it.
The casual indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant is well laid out, with separate stations for salads, desserts, and drinks, which helps keep lines to a minimum, and a new Italian section called Canaletto. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, and its pizza and ice-cream stations are open until just before dinner. An outdoor grill on the Lido Deck serves burgers and other sandwich items throughout the afternoon, and a nearby station allows you to make your own tacos or nachos at lunch.
For the most part, public areas are subdued, consciously tasteful, and soothing. The Sky Deck affords an almost 360-degree panorama where the only drawback is the roaring wind. One deck below, almost equivalent views are available from the ever-popular Crow's Nest nightclub, which offers a subtly glowing bar; banquettes in bright, modern colors; and translucent white floor-to-ceiling curtains that function as both decor and movable enclosures for private events. Cocktail mixology classes and other events are held here during the day; after dinner, it becomes the ship's disco and nightclub where theme parties and dancing take place. The ships' small, three-story atria are pleasant enough and refreshingly unglitzy, housing the passenger-services and shore-excursions desks as well as officers' offices.
The ships' two-story showrooms are modern and stylish, but not overdone. On the Statendam, for instance, muted gold columns blend elegantly with lovely tile mosaic work in shades of blue and green. Unlike most ships, which have rows of theater-like seats or couches, the lower levels are configured with cozy groupings of cushy banquettes and chairs that can be moved. The balcony, however, has bench seating, with low backs that make it impossible to lean back without slouching.
The trendiest spot is the Explorations Café, a well-stocked library and Internet center with a coffee bar and ocean views. A buzzing hub of activity, there are 12 computer stations and several plug points for those going wireless with laptops. Five leather chaise longues partnered with CD players and headphone stations face the sea through floor-to-ceiling windows, while other clusters of couches and chairs are set among the generous shelves of periodicals and books, which include everything from travel to fiction, science, history, gardening, and reference titles. A magazine rack holds current issues of popular magazines and newspapers, when the ship can get them. If you're a crossword buff, you can tackle the New York Times puzzles embedded under glass in the room's cafe tables (wax pencils are provided).
There's a dark and cozy piano bar, where requests are taken, and a new combo lounge called Mix, which feature three separate bars: one for martinis, another for champagne, and the third for spirits and ales. A live band plays for dancers before dinner in the very popular and refurbished Ocean Bar, and the casinos are a nice size and spacious, though not as pleasingly designed as aboard the line's newer ships. A small movie theater shows films a few times a day, and this space also houses the Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen -- the movie screen descends in front of the kitchen during showtimes.
For children, the youngest play in a bright but smallish room decorated like a giant paint box, and preteens have a karaoke machine and video games. Lucky teens, however, get the Oasis, a top-deck Sun Deck with a wading pool with a waterfall, teak deck chairs, hammocks, colorful Astroturf, and lamps designed as metal palm trees, all enclosed by a bamboo fence. This would be a great space for group events on sailings with few kids aboard.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
Each ship has a sprawling expanse of teak-covered aft deck surrounding a swimming pool, and now a pizzeria, bar, and large LED movie screen, too. One deck above and centrally located is a second swimming pool, plus a wading pool, hot tubs, and a spacious deck -- all under a sliding glass roof to allow use in Alaska, or in inclement weather elsewhere. Imaginative, colorful tile designs and a dolphin sculpture add spice, and the attractive Dolphin Bar, with umbrellas and wicker chairs, is the perfect spot for a drink and snack in the late afternoon after a shore excursion.
The Sports Deck on each ship has combo basketball/tennis/volleyball courts, and the lovely Lower Promenade Deck allows an unobstructed circuit of the ship for walking, jogging, or just lounging in the snazzy, traditional-looking wooden deck chairs. The ships' windowed Ocean Spa gyms have a couple dozen exercise machines, a large aerobics area, steam rooms, and saunas. The redesigned Greenhouse Spas are an improvement, each including thermal suites with a hydrotherapy whirlpool and heated tile loungers.
The Forward Observation Deck, a huge expanse of open teak deck, is accessible only via two stairways hidden away in the forward (covered) portion of the Promenade Deck, and so gets little use. But don't miss going there. There's no deck furniture here, but standing in the very bow as the ship plows through the ocean is a wonderful, wonderful experience.