To better immerse guests in “the experience,” Holland America Line will launch Explorations Central (EXC) at the Crow’s Nest on Westerdam in May.
On Sunday at Port Everglades, FL, the line unveiled details about what that new destination experience center entails -- everything from skilled EXC travel guides to high technology touch points, from a virtual bridge to curated travel books.
“It’s another chapter in Holland America Line’s bold new story,” said Orlando Ashford, the line’s president and CEO, as he briefed Travel Agent and other media onboard Koningsdam.
Besides Westerdam, which is getting the new EXC by May, the following (in no particular order) will also get the space by the end of 2018: Oosterdam, Zuiderdam, Noordam, Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam and Koningsdam.
The new EXC will also be on Nieuw Statendam when it launches in late 2018.
EXC as a concept was announced in December, but “now we’re going to start layering on more of the detail,” said Ashford. He and Bill Prince, vice president of entertainment and enrichment, provided these highlights.
EXC’s New Features
The Explorations Center is called EXC for short. The line will keep “at the Crow’s Nest” in the title, at least for now, as guests typically are familiar with the Crow’s Nest as a signature feature. But the line hopes that in the future, guests will just call the locale EXC.
The space is designed as a hefty destination resource, so guests can find information and advice to help them explore ashore in a personalized way.
“We look for ways to really enhance the experience, and it’s great to go places and visit them, but also to have some sort of experience on the ship that helps you with that discovery,” said Prince.
So “we wanted to build a world-class physical manifestation of the discovery of the ports to which we sail,” Prince noted. "We have reinvented our experience around the EXC brand, short for Explorations Central.”
While Westerdam will receive the EXC facilities/features in an April drydock, the ship is chartered post-drydock for two cruises. So there will be a soft roll-out during that time and then in May, guests on regular Holland America Westerdam sailings will get their first look at EXC.
Passengers will start at The Hub with new touch table maps and port information. Interactive “Discovery Tables” will go far beyond the typical information. “The experience is centered around personalization,” said Prince.
For example, when looking at what to do in Rome, the electronic display might flora buffs tell the story of a Rome botany tour. Did you know that since the 1600s, 300 types of plants have grown within the ancient Colosseum? It’s true, and can add a new twist to a Colosseum tour for a botany fan.
Hundreds of Stories
Each Discovery Table will have several hundred of these types of destination “stories” -- unusual tour options or helpful details about popular sites. All can help guests personalize their experience ashore.
At first, the touch screens will be loaded with details and stories for Mediterranean ports, but eventually that will expand to include other ports across the globe.
As guests explore via the touch tables, nearby a team of EXC travel guides will be ready to assist -- if the guest so desires.
The team will be available in EXC starting early in the morning and into the evening to offer details about shore excursions and tips for dining or independently exploring.
Guests can book their shore trips, to be called EXC Tours, within the new space. The line also plans to relocate the future cruise desk here as well. So guests who so wish can start thinking about their next cruise – and book it if desired.
Another new feature? Guests will also see digital displays that flip and show the date, the current (and next) port of call, last time to be back onboard, the language spoken ashore, a few helpful phrases in that language and the outside temperature.
Flip-open digital maps will help the guide and guest discuss specifics of what the guest wants to do and how they can navigate through the destination.
Also planned is Theater EXC, a new space configured for everything from travel guide discussions to musical performance by folkloric groups and on-screen presentations for viewing on the space’s 100-inch TV screen.
Book lovers will appreciate the return of both fiction and non-fiction with bookshelves throughout the EXC space.
Books will be curated from the Elliott Bay Book Company, a Seattle independent seller, and focus on ports for the specific voyage plus those on other Holland America voyages.
Given Holland America’s strong connections with the Netherlands, thanks to its founding there in 1873, guests will also find books exploring that country’s history and culture. Maritime-focused books will also be displayed for guest use.
Always popular on Holland America ships is the Explorations Café powered by The New York Times. Yes, a refreshed version of that will reside in EXC too, with copies of the New York Times crossword puzzles, plus iPad content from the newspaper.
Daytime, clients might order a cup of coffee or a latte, or at night a glass of wine, beer or fine spirit.
Another feature designed to get passengers talking is “Destinations Display,” with panoramic views of ports to which the line sails.
On the display, guests will be asked a question of the day. That might entail, "Where is the best spot to dine ashore in Venice? Or, "where would you love to go next?
“This screen is going to be enormous, it’s going to be floor to ceiling and it’s going to be six panels big,” said Prince.
In response to the question of the day, guests will touch a digital map with the destination of their choice. The results will be registered and by the end of the cruise, guests can see where the passengers collectively would love to go, for example.
Executives say that guest answers will help them design other experiences for those who sail in the future.
Another new feature expected to be very popular? EXC’s Virtual Bridge will offer a more consumer-friendly version of the information used by the ship’s captain and bridge crew to operate the vessel.
So, for example, in "real time," guests will see the ship’s heading, the ocean depth, speed of the ship and navigational coordinates.
R Class Ships
While eight ships will get the full EXC treatment, Holland America also plans to create a “lite” version of that on the R-class ships – Amsterdam, Zaandam and Volendam.
So the concept won’t fully take over those smaller vessels' Crow’s Nest but there will be elements of EXC within the space.
Beyond that, “there are a couple of older ships that this remains a question mark,” Prince said. “We’re just not sure what we’re going to do with those yet. But the bulk of the fleet by early 2019 will have this experience.”