Holland America's New President Gus Antorcha Charts A Course

Sailing the world since 1873, Holland America Line has a storied history but for 2020, much is new. Most notably, the premium line has a new president: Gus Antorcha, the former COO of Carnival Cruise Line. So, what can travel advisors expect from Antorcha? 

Acknowledging that "I'm still learning" about the brand, Antorcha told reporters at a Seatrade Cruise Virtual press briefing last week that "I do not plan on initially making any major changes" from what Orlando Ashford, the line's former president, and his team initiated.

Citing the "Music Walk" entertainment concept and culinary enhancements Ashford's group created, Antorcha said: "The innovations they drove...are fantastic."

But while he's quite "impressed" with those core elements, moving forward, he'd like to see a stronger focus by his team "on the connection—cultural or otherwise—to the ports we visit and how we bring that experience onboard." In other words, look for more immersive brand messaging.  

Holland America Alaska - Editorial

A Holland America ship sails near an Alaska glacier. // Photo by Holland America Line

For example, Antorcha cited a "significant number of onboard lectures;" ports of call, including Glacier Bay that aren't accessible to many other lines; the line's three-day Denali land option for the Alaska cruises, which on the third day "gets you right up to the mountain;" and other immersive experiences. 

Sales Force Changes

Due to the pandemic this summer and fall, "I had to make decision to furlough a fair number of employees and that affected the sales team," Antorcha said. With a smaller sales unit, "as far as structure I’m still working through what our sales team will look like," Antorcha said, adding that he'd spoken to many trade partners for ideas.

But, "until we really have clarity as far as our path to sail in the United States, I’m going to wait to make any significant structural changes," in the sales team.

Loyal Guests and New Ones, Too

Holland America Line has been exploring the world since 1873. Its premium ships call at 470 ports in 98 countries around the world. Not surprisingly, over the decades, it's had an extremely loyal group of past guests.

Travel Agent asked Antorcha how he can satisfy those loyal guests' desires with what younger generations and more active travelers seek in a cruise vacation?

"I think you focus on the emotional elements of the brand," he said, pointing to "learning and enriching experiences," which will attract similarly minded people no matter the age. 

"There are young people that feel that way, and there are older guests—more mature—and that’s fine because what binds those age gaps is a similar way of looking at life and wanting similar things out of a vacation."  

Aerial view of a Holland America Line ship cruising through the Panama Canal

A core element of the line's deployment is longer, exotic voyages. Shown above, a vessel transits the Panama Canal. // Photo by Holland America Line

He did note, however, that Holland America typically will "skew older " from a demographic perspective, he said, because not that many 30-somethings can afford to take a 21-day, 50-day voyage or 60-day or longer voyage.

"So, the nature of our deployment will skew older, more mature," Antorcha said. "But I don’t see that as an issue."

New Flagship

Much of Antorcha's presentation focused on its newest vessel, the 2,668-passenger Rotterdam, the line's seventh vessel with that name. The ship "floated out" earlier this month, sea trials will begin in early 2021 and the vessel will be delivered in late July 2021. The first cruise will be August 1, 2021.

Holland America's new Rotterdam just prior to float-out. Photo by Holland America Line. Editorial Use Only.

Shown above prior to "float out" is the new Rotterdam. // Photo by Holland America Line

Just under 1,000 feet in length, the new ship will span 13 decks and will have 13 restaurants and dining venues, 12 bars and seven entertainment venues.

Most notably, “Rotterdam will showcase the evolution of design that was introduced with the previous Pinnacle-class ships, Koningsdam and the Nieuw Statendam,” said Antorcha, “focusing on the importance of thoughtful details and special touches."

Once again at the “design helm” are acclaimed hospitality designer Adam Tihany and architect Bjorn Storbraaten.  My Nguyen, the cruise line's director of interior design, also is adding her touches to stateroom design and soft goods. While the design flow will be familiar to guests who've sailed on other Pinnacle-class ships, "on every new ship, you have an opportunity to tweak things, adapt and evolve," he noted.

Rendering of Neptune Lounge on the new Rotterdam, Holland America Line. Editorial Use Only.

Exclusively for suite guests is Rotterdam's Neptune Lounge. // Rendering by Holland America Line

So, Rotterdam will feature a larger Neptune Lounge, exclusively for suite guests. Throughout the ship, the line is updating bars to enhance flow and functionality, tweaking color schemes and adding lighter woods. In addition, starting with the Pinnacle Suites and extending to higher suite categories, “we’ve updated the look of the soft goods. Helping satisfy a range of guests, Rotterdam also will feature the Pinnacle-class family and single staterooms.

“There’s a new purpose-built space for Club Orange guests” too, said Antorcha. Club Orange guests will have access to Rotterdam's exclusive, 86-seat Club Orange Restaurant and, across the hallway, a private bar and lounge called Half Moon Bar. 

Rotterdam's Club Orange Restaurant // Rendering by Holland America Line 

What's Club Orange? Guests desiring touches of exclusivity and special pampering—such as priority check-in, a dedicated specialty dining space and exclusive amenities—pay an added fee (complimentary for suite guests) to become a Club Orange guest

$4 Million in Artwork

Since art has always been an important component across the Holland America Line fleet, the new ship will display more than 2,500 art pieces, valued at $4 million. 

Atrium Sculpture Rotterdam Rendering Holland America Line Editorial Use Only

Atrium art piece on Rotterdam // Rendering by Holland America Line

Antorcha also showed a slide of the ship’s new atrium sculpture, noting it "uses spiraling metal rods to create a vision of a deconstructed musical instrument.”

And, of course, "at the heart of Rotterdam is a celebration of ‘live’ music at Music Walk,” he stressed. Guests can stroll back and forth between such venues as B.B. King Blues Club, Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard and Rolling Stone Rock Room.

Antorcha also said that at World Stage, guests also will discover new productions of BBC Earth screenings.

Where will the ship be christened? Antorcha said it's not yet determined, but "I’d like it to be in Rotterdam," because of the line's heritage and the city's emotional symbolic connection to the brand,

Deployment Details 

Deployment for the new Rotterdam will begin in August 2021 with a seven-day sailing from Trieste, Italy to Civitavecchia (Rome), and then a 14-day journey from there to Amsterdam, its late summer/early home port. After a season of seven- to 14-day Norway sailings “with a Baltic and an Iceland cruise to mix it up,” according to Antorcha, the ship will sail across the Atlantic in October 2021. Rotterdam will operate a 2021-2022 winter season of Caribbean cruises.

As for this coming 2020-21 winter Caribbean season, he noted that—once the line begins sailing once again—the currently published itineraries may change as restrictions come up or down, or the line works through protocols required by the various countries.

Fleet-wise, four ships were sold this year, as parent Carnival Corporation sought to cut costs and bring in revenue during the pandemic. Two of the ships, Amsterdam and the previous Rotterdam (the sixth so-named ship in the line's history), were purchased by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Veendam and Maasdam also were sold. With a smaller fleet, fewer employees and shipboard crew members are needed, so the brand is transforming into a bit smaller company. "That affects people's lives and that to me is the hardest part," Antorcha said.

In addition, a smaller fleet could mean "some pull-back" on the longer, exotic voyages, he mentioned. That said, "some of the slightly larger ships are able to do the [same] itineraries that those ships did." Since longer, exotic voyages are a strong core element of the brand, it's likely that some of those will be operated.  

As for sailings this year, if the "No Sail Order" is lifted, "we are open from December 15 forward," he said. But he also noted that after the line gets greater clarity working with U.S. government officials, it could possibly tweak some of those plans. For now, deployment remains as scheduled. 

Alaska Bound

Holland America was the first cruise line to offer adventures to Alaska and the Yukon more than 70 years ago. For advisors wondering if there will be a 2021 Alaska season, Antorcha is adamant: "Absolutely we will be full force in Alaska for the 2021 season...We will have six ships. I see us doing a complete and robust Alaska program next year."

The line is likely to start with less than 100 percent occupancy. While the line also needs to be financially responsible, Antorcha says the line will "operate in the right way," focused on health/safety and environmental responsibility. 

For Alaska 2021, the line will offer "the program we’ve historically offered,” he said, and that includes both sea and land components including stays at the line's Alaska lodges.  

Half Moon Cay

Asked if private islands will play a more robust role in Caribbean itineraries this winter, Antorcha answered: "Yes, yes...for a number of reasons." 

Half Moon Cay - Carnival Cruise Line

With warm water and soft sands, Half Moon Cay is the line's top rated Caribbean/Bahamian port. // Photo by Carnival Cruise Line.

First, he said they're extremely well-regarded by guests and in high demand. When Holland America adds Half Moon Cay into itineraries, "they sell better and that port has the highest guest satisfaction of any port we visit in the Caribbean," he emphasized, adding that was also true for sister brand, Carnival Cruise Line, among others. 

In addition, he said the line has "the ability to control and manage the experience" on Half Moon Cay. Industry-wide, "I think you will see a lot of private islands in the mix, certainly for the initial return [to cruise service], but they’ve always been a core aspect of the itineraries."

Missing "The Freedom to Travel"

Will seniors stop cruising for fear of COVID-19 and will that negatively impact multigenerational bookings? "It would be a reasonable conclusion based on what you read, but the data I’m seeing doesn't suggest that."

He is certain that "whatever we see is going to be temporary." Talking with guests and the trade, he says "people are desperate to travel, I’m desperate to travel. My parents are desperate to travel. My friends are desperate to travel."

"I think all of us took travel a little for granted," he said. Right now, "people appreciate traveling and traveling in immersive ways, traveling with friends and family, multigenerational travel, so I think it actually benefits brands like Holland and the category in general.

Hopeful that new treatments and a vaccine are on the horizon, Antorcha said: "We just have to get through this period…and I think what we’ll see is a significant amount of demand for the type of vacation that we offer," 

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