My Premium Experience on Holland America
By Don Dean, Senior Director of Finance and Human Resources, The Cruise Web, Inc.
In early May, my wife and I had the opportunity to sail on Holland America’s ms Oosterdam to Alaska. Alaska is a fantastic destination, and I could go on about it for some time. However, today I really want to focus on Holland America, which falls into the premium cruise category. If you are a regular reader of our Newsletter, you may recall last October’s issue in which Rosalind Smith, our Business Development manager, shared her summary of the various cruise lines market segments of contemporary, premium, and luxury. Rosalind wrote a fun description of the categories by using an analogy of the cruise lines to shoes. I would like to go a little more in depth on the premium cruise experience.
As the market segment name implies, premium is that one-step up in your cruise experience. On the ms Oosterdam, we were part of a Holland America event for the top agencies for Holland America (yes, our Alaskan cruise was a business trip complete with business meetings). When on such a cruise, I am always a little suspect that while trying to impress us, our experience may not be the same as the other passengers. Consequently, I participate in onboard activities with the other passengers without sharing my affiliation to the cruise industry. I use this as an opportunity to do my own market research, and I inquire about the experience of the other passengers.
One afternoon, my wife and I attended afternoon tea. We sat with passengers from Michigan, Florida, Arizona and Australia and shared some wonderful conversation. While sampling the fine selection of teas, pastries and other treats, I subtlety moved the conversation to the topic of cruising. All but the Aussies had cruised more than once; the Americans had sailed with several different cruise lines, and all were repeating on Holland America. When I inquired as to why they kept returning to Holland, a few common themes came through. First was the consistency of the experience; the recurring statement was “if you have enjoyed service that consistently exceeds your expectations and past experiences on other cruises, why would you change.” Second was the dining experience; all felt the food was outstanding and that the dining experience went beyond just taste to include presentation and wait staff attention. Third was the number and variety of onboard activities without an overwhelming number of choices. While there was not the inexhaustible list that one might experience on a large contemporary cruise ship, there was plenty to do. The passengers said they were able to be busy but did not feel a need to rush from activity to activity, which was their experience on the contemporary lines. Without the temptation to over indulge in activities, the intensity level drops resulting in a sense of relaxation. The last recurring theme was the experience off the ship on the excursions. There were a large number of options at each port that provided a wide selection of activities. The positive result being that the number of choices served to lower the number of participants on any excursion and consequently create a more personal experience with the guides.
The positive experiences of my fellow travelers were not by chance. They were consistent to the message that Holland America was conveying to me in the industry meetings. On the ms Oosterdam, Holland America was quite proud of the ship’s crew, which was predominantly Indonesian. The crew knew that, while important, service goes beyond a polite “good morning” and a smile. The premium experience goes that extra step.
As my fellow passengers noted, dining on the premium lines will be that one-step up. For example, Holland America has many itineraries that are conducive to back-to-back sailings. That is when your first cruise ends and you are at a port that, should you wish, is the starting point to continue on to a new itinerary with new destinations. Accordingly, Holland America has a distinguished culinary council that has developed an extensive menu to ensure menu items in the main dining room do not repeat if you cruise your way around the world. Of course, the Pinnacle Grill’s specialty steak house menu repeats. For sure, if I were on an extended cruise, this steak lover would want to repeat the Pinnacle’s lobster mac and cheese.
On the ms Oosterdam, during the sea days my wife and I found more than enough to keep us busy, whether it was a wine tasting, a Dancing with the Stars: At Sea event (a Holland America exclusive), afternoon tea, sampling the seafood of Alaska, or sitting by the glass covered pool (after all, it was Alaska in May) with a beverage and book of choice. These days were busy but not rushed.
As part of our Alaskan cruise, we sailed the Tracy Arm Fjord. Slowly cruising through the narrow fjord past the 3,000 ft. snowcapped peaks to reach a view of the glaciers was truly awe-inspiring. Again, Holland America provided that little extra. While we were standing on the bow of the ship taking in the awesomeness of the Alaskan scenery the crew served hot pea soup. Somehow, this Holland America tradition made the experience of the vastness of Alaska intimate.
The premium cruise ships are smaller than most of the contemporary cruise line ships. Nevertheless, our cruise reminded us that what the premium experience does best, whether on Holland America, Princess, or Celebrity, is make your cruise experience greater.
Senior Director of Finance and Human Resources
The Cruise Web, Inc.