By David Yeskel
If you were smitten – as I was – by the new, modern look and feel of Holland America Line’s (HAL) Koningsdam upon her debut in 2016, prepare for the love affair to continue with a just-delivered sister ship, Nieuw Statendam. And while the gorgeous, 2,666-passenger vessel matches her sibling’s lighter, contemporary decor and graceful, curving lines, there are a few new product features aboard Nieuw Statendam that will soon be matched on Koningsdam, followed by likely fleetwide deployment.
The most substantial of these enhancements revolve around cuisine, destinations and musical entertainment – all areas of focus for HAL, and in which it excels. The prior Culinary Arts Center has been reimagined into Club Orange, a casual yet intimate venue that serves breakfast and dinner to Neptune and Pinnacle Suite guests from an exhibition kitchen. But the Club Orange benefits (available to other, non-suite guests for $50 per day) extend beyond the restaurant with priority check-in and tendering, a dedicated EXC Tours (shore-ex) desk, a premium in-room dining breakfast menu and other amenities.
Meanwhile, HAL’s indefatigable and uber-talented Master Chef, Rudi Sodamin, has introduced his permanent French brasserie, Rudi’s Sel de Mer, to an already impressive roster of alternative restaurants. Previously operated as a fleetwide pop-up (which will continue on most ships), the a la carte-priced menu features fresh seafood and meats prepared in classic French style along with the chef’s modern, unique twists. Sodamin, who was in the galley on my media sailing, wowed me with a Marinated Lobster appetizer, Bouillabaisse Marseillaise and Salzburger Nockerl – an Austrian-style berry souffle large enough for two to share.
Although the line’s original and best-loved specialty restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, is still a guest favorite, its Pacific Northwest steak and seafood menu had become somewhat stale in recent years. But with an infusion of culinary innovation, it has been reinvigorated by HAL’s Culinary Council chef, David Burke. I started with Burke’s pastrami salmon and clothesline candied bacon (a guilty pleasure that shouldn’t be missed), and followed with his braised short ribs with mushroom cavatappi – a rich and robust main course topped with truffle mousse. Finishing it off was a no-brainer: Burke’s gourmet cheesecake lollipops were the perfect ending to a modern, forward-looking menu that guests may now enjoy for only a $35 upcharge.
And the specialty dining evolution doesn’t end there. Pan-Asian favorite Tamarind and casual Italian spot Canaletto continue to innovate with interesting recipes and new dishes that impress. Meanwhile, the line’s signature Lido Market casual dining area, serving all three meals, is reminiscent of an upscale food court with gorgeously presented and delicious gourmet offerings served via 7 distinct action stations.
The prior Crow’s Nest area, previously housing a lounge, cafe and library, has been completely reimagined into the new EXC Explorations Central and Cafe. Combining a shore excursion desk, a destination lecture area and multiple interactive kiosks that provide port info, EXC has a laser-like focus on all things destination-related. Added to the staff mix here is the Location Guide, an expert who provides lectures and dispenses insider tips and information to guests wishing to explore the ports independently – without purchasing a shore excursion. This complimentary service, an invaluable addition that brings the expertise of a destination expert to those that may desire an off-the-beaten-path experience, is a refreshingly welcome component of the EXC team’s offerings.
Since HAL significantly upgraded nighttime musical entertainment by partnering with three prestigious institutions, the venues now featured along the line’s Music Walk offer what is hands-down the industry’s best live music. The Memphis pros who lay down soulful R&B hits and blues numbers at B.B. King’s Blues Club draw devoted listeners each night, while the skilled classical quintet performing at Lincoln Center Stage adds a highbrow element sorely missing on competing lines. And while the two piano players/singers at Billboard Onboard encourage rousing sing-alongs to top pop hits of the last 40 years, they now have some competition nearby with HAL’s latest addition, Rolling Stone Rock Room, where a live band kicks out four decades of classic rock hits. Show times are staggered among the four branded venues, allowing passengers the ability to enjoy all musical styles in one evening, if so desired.
Whether guests are explorers, foodies or music lovers – or all three – they’re extremely well-catered to by the doting staff and crew aboard the spacious, elegant and smartly-designed Nieuw Statendam. Visit www.hollandamerica.com for sailing schedules and promotions.
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