Cruise Ship Tour: Music and Dining on Holland America’s New Koningsdam

Cruisers can listen to a "live" classical musical performance at the new Lincoln Center Stage venue on Holland America Line's Koningsdam. // Photo by Seldon Ink

They could have easily called Holland America Line’s new 2,650-passenger Koningsdam the “Musicdam” or the “Diningdam,” in that the ship's major highlights focus strongly on new musical and culinary offerings.

This new ship is designed to help the premium line broaden its appeal to new generations of guests while still retaining many of Holland America's traditional brand features. 

We sailed on this 99,500-grt ship, Holland America's first Pinnacle-class vessel, during a seven-night "Norse Legends" itinerary in early June. Here's a snapshot look at our observations from a week onboard. 

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New Musical Offerings

The Koningsdam’s new or enhanced “musical” offerings not only encompass live performances but also extend to the ship's interior décor. Architect Bjorn Storbratten and designer Adam Tihany have created a balanced vision of contemporary and traditional ship design and décor.

A pioneer in the luxury segment, Storbratten worked on both Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam, as well as Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest Tihany is a hospitality designer with serious design chops, including collaborations with the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Charlie Palmer. He also designed eight signature restaurants for the legendary Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque fame.

Interestingly, the designers focused on the “architecture of music,” with Tihany saying: “I was inspired by the thought of what you might see from the inside of a musical instrument, what the architecture of the surfaces and the geometry look like. The design isn’t a literal translation of music, but a conceptual approach where we seek to evoke the feeling and beauty of an instrument with graceful lines, dramatic textures, lighting effects, and use of materials.”

Some examples of this new approach? The three-deck-high central atrium features an airy stainless-steel sculpture representing a synthesis of a string quartet. Guests will see music-focused artwork in the stairwells and public spaces. In addition, the main dining room has musical note-like curved pillars, a soaring ceiling and two-story wine tower centerpiece that’s sheathed in curved copper.

World Stage  

Situated forward on Decks 2 and 3, the World Stage theater and entertainment venue is completely "reimagined" with violin-like curves and woods and the excellent sight lines. We appreciated the almost complete lack of view-killing columns.

It also boasts a two-story, 270-degree LED screen and a flexible space that can accommodate multiple stage configurations and uses=, so a simple stage setting can evolve into an Italian palazzo. The World Stage hosts musical performances, magic shows and repertory productions, including One World—a trip around the world through music.

Several shows are produced in partnership with BBC Earth; one of those, “Frozen Planet”, explores the wilderness of the polar regions through BBC Earth footage accompanied by "live" music in the theater. 

Along the way to World Stage is the meandering Music Walk area, where the new Lincoln Center Stage hosts "live" chamber music nightly and afternoon recitals on sea days. This new musical concept for Holland America was launched in January onboard Eurodam and Oosterdam in April, and it will extend to other ships over time.   

Dueling pianists at the new Billboard Onboard play top hits for guests. // Photo by Seldon Ink
Notes serves a range of whiskeys from Tennessee, Scotland, Ireland and Japan. // Photo by Seldon Ink

Also within the Music Walk is the hit-spinning Billboard Onboard with "live" dueling pianists who play nightly sets of top Billboard hits.  It's presented in partnership with Billboard.

Both Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard have their own bars, but there's also a new bar concept situated between the two.

It's called Notes and its specialty is whiskey from Tennessee, Scotland, Ireland, Japan and other countries. Guests will find a wide range of flights, detailed guidance from the bar’s iPads and very well-trained bartenders.

Deck 2 also has the Queen’s Lounge venue for the line’s already-popular B.B. King’s Blues Club, which brings Memphis music to the high seas.

With nice views of the show from Deck 3 as well, the Koningsdam is the eighth ship in the fleet to feature this special music experience, and it’s as popular as ever come evening.

Direct from Beale Street, the B.B. King All-Star Band, an eight-piece group featuring two vocalists backed by rhythm and horn sections, plays a mix of Memphis-style music -- everything from funky and fast to soulful and smooth.

Performances are six nights a week, and during the performance, the venue features images of the legendary blues guitar musician. 

What's to drink? Guests can order the same specialty cocktails they might in a land-based B.B. King's Blues Clubs, so cruisers might sip on the rum-based Lucille and Rock Me Baby concoctions.

The Queen’s Lounge also hosts other programs, plus daily afternoon tea.

Main dining room on Koningsdam // Photo by Seldon Ink

Culinary Highlights

Much like the Music Walk, Koningsdam's Deck 2 is akin to a "culinary walk" that should greatly appeal to culinary buffs. The central promenade includes the main dining room aft and — moving forward — new interactive displays that present icons of the food and wine world through the line’s Culinary Council.

Hands-on cooking stations at the Culinary Arts Center on Koningsdam // Photo by Seldon Ink

The walk also includes an expanded Culinary Arts Center, new Sel de Mer French seafood brasserie, a larger Pinnacle Grill, and a central bar that’s ideal for pre-dinner cocktails.

The Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine is a dramatic open show kitchen that now features new individual cook stations, large mirrors and viewing screens ideal for cooking demonstrations, hands-on classes and workshops.

Cruisers who book "Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center" will eat at this new space onboard Koningsdam. // Photo by Seldon Ink

New to Koningsdam, the center has an evening farm-to-table experience called "Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center." Unlike the day-time "hands on" cooking classes, all the preparation work and cooking for this lovely dinner are handled by the ship's professional chefs.

So cruisers can relax, sip on a glass of wine and savor such artisanal dishes as celery and kale risotto and sea bass with fennel confit. The dishes often incorporate fresh microgreens grown in a glass-enclosed growing area; that's possible through Holland America's partnership with Netherlands-based Koppert Cress.

At BLEND, guests create their own blended wine. // Photo by Seldon Ink

The $39 fee for Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center includes a welcome cocktail, canapes and unlimited wine.

Located just outside the Culinary Arts Center is the ship’s new BLEND by Chateau Ste. Michelle concept. 

Created in collaboration with Washington state’s oldest winery, the small venue enables participants to blend their own wine and enjoy it in one of the ship’s dining venues or back in their stateroom.

The two-hour BLEND session includes information about the winery and the state’s winemaking history, instructions on what to look for in the five blending wines, and — then the fun part — blending and sampling your own creation. 

Our "take"? We felt the BLEND experience was well worth the $129 per person charge, 

The new Sel de Mer serves French culinary favorites. // Photo by Seldon Ink

Translated “salt of the sea” in French, the new, intimate Sel de Mer -- a lovely new French culinary venue -- features the line’s first "a la carte" pricing.

Here cruisers will find fresh seafood dishes with contemporary twists, including fresh oysters, scallops, seafood chowder, bouillabaisse, whole fish and more. The ship’s chefs also go ashore and bring back the catch of the day when possible.

We'd highly recommend the crab salad appetizer at $13 and the salt-crusted baked branzino at $26. 

In addition, Holland America has created a new glass-enclosed wine room to serve as a wall between Sel de Mer and the adjacent Pinnacle Grill, the line's signature alternative dining restaurant.  

Along with Pacific Northwest dishes ($10 per person for lunch and $29 per person for dinner), Pinnacle Grill transforms into an even more upscale dining experience with its Taste of Librije ($69 per person) Dutch dining experience.

That highlights the menu of Jonnie Boer’s three-star Michelin restaurant. From our perspective, the menu’s "Oysters on the Beach" appetizer with foie gras for “oyster shells” just may be the single best dish we’ve ever had at sea.

The new Grand Dutch Cafe on Holland America's Koningsdam // Photo by Seldon Ink

Up one deck and staying with the Dutch theme, the new Grand Dutch Café is a nod to Holland America Line’s rich Dutch heritage. It delivers the goods with Dutch-themed sandwiches (think ham and cheese), snacks (we loved the pickled herring), pastries and coffee drinks, and, of course, Heineken on tap. 

Even the casual Lido dining experience on Deck 9 is new. It's renamed Lido Market for good reason, as it has a more European, market-like feel.

Guests will encounter market-style signage, daily special boards, lots of display shelves, servers in different themed uniforms and different stations offering both grab-and-go and quickly-prepared fresh options.

Specific food stations include: “Homestead” for comfort classics; “Wild Harvest” serving healthy fare; “Breadboard” with freshly-baked breads and signature sandwiches; and “Distant Lands,” offering foods from around the world and from regions in which the ship is cruising.

Though not new, Canaletto, a small plate “sharing” Italian dinner experience ($10) with carafes of Italian wines ($15), is also on this deck.

All the way aft and with great views, an expanded Tamarind continues the popular concept found on Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam. Along with its Asian-infused dinner menu ($20), Tamarind now features a seven-seat sushi bar and lounge area.

Sweet Dreams

New to Koningsdam are the line’s first-ever purpose-built staterooms for families (32 of them). They range from 222 to 231 square feet and feature such special amenities as two bathrooms and accommodations for up to five.

Also new are a dozen single ocean-view cabins. These solo staterooms range from 127 to 172 square feet and feature most amenities found in the ship's other accommodations.

In addition, cruisers can choose from other accommodations too -- everything from a Verandah Spa Stateroom with lots of spa amenities (but the same sizes as Verandah staterooms) to the more robust Vista, Signature, and Neptune Suites, ranging from 260 square to 855 square feet.

The Pinnacle Suite is the top suite on the new Koningsdam. // Photo by Holland America Line

For the ultimate indulgence, cruisers can book the ship's sole Pinnacle Suite, with a whopping 1,290 square feet of space and floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Guests can spread out in a living room with sofa bed accommodating one; dining room; bedroom with a king sized bed; a dressing room; a master bathroom with sea views and an oversized whirlpool bath and shower combination, plus an additional show stall; and a private veranda, also with a whirlpool. This suite also boasts a pantry, microwave, refrigerator, guest half bath and a private stereo system.

The look of this suite is a bit different than in some suites. It's not one large open area but more like a condominium or apartment with "rooms." 

Our stateroom (#4143) was among the ship’s 700 “standard” veranda cabins of 228-420 square feet. Ours had an obstructed view, but it was spacious and well-appointed with driftwood-like tones and stunning tilework in the airy bathroom. We liked the Mariner Dream bed with its bedside USB ports and outlets, great for plugging in all our devices. All staterooms and suites feature these beds.

#4143, Standard Veranda Stateroom on Holland America's Koningsdam // Photo by Seldon Ink

Our stateroom also had a large flat-panel TV with video on demand, fresh fruit (upon request), Elemis bath amenities, plush robes, premium massage showerheads and frameless glass shower doors that “open up” the bathrooms even more.

We appreciated the television movies and video system that allowed us to check our account, daily schedule and restaurant reservations; guests can also do this on a smartphone or laptop via the line's Navigator app.

That said, we found the Internet pretty sluggish compared to other recent sailings in Europe, possibly a result of our cruise into Norway’s remote fjords. 

Insider Secret

We love booking lunch at the Pinnacle Grill whenever it’s offered. That's not always on sea days and not always advertised in advance. It's best to simply show up and ask about any availability.

Though the ship's Dive-In burgers rival any at sea, we love the Pinnacle Grill’s hamburger with a side of French fries; it makes the perfect casual lunchtime pairing — perhaps with a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle red.

Inaugural Year Itineraries

Holland America's Koningsdam is shown in a Norwegian fjord. // Photo by Seldon Ink

Koningsdam was christened this past spring by Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in Rotterdam, where Holland America Line was founded 143 years ago. Members of Dutch royalty have christened 11 of the premium line’s ships.

For its inaugural season, Koningsdam will sail in Europe, specifically seven- to 14-day Baltic and Norwegian cruises with Amsterdam as a homeport. Some voyages include ports in the British Isles and Iceland.

At the end of the season, the ship will sail from Amsterdam to Rome (Civitavecchia) on a 12-day journey and then cross the Atlantic Ocean to Port Everglades in South Florida. Between November 2016 and March 2017, it will sail four- to 11-day Caribbean voyages and one Bahamas cruise from that U.S. home port.  

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