Sailing Into History: Holland America's 150th Anniversary Crossing

Travel Agent is currently aboard Holland America Line’s "150th Anniversary Transatlantic Crossing" by Rotterdam which departed New York City on April 7. Once the 2,668-passenger ship arrives on April 18 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the city of the line’s founding, a litany of celebratory events will unfold.

Gus Antorcha, Holland America’s president, will lead the shoreside celebrations. Scheduled to attend the events are Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Rotterdam’s godmother; Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam; and descendants from two families of Holland America Line’s original founders.

Ashore in Rotterdam

Upon Rotterdam’s arrival at the City of Rotterdam on April 18, the 150th anniversary celebrations will begin at Hotel New York, Holland America’s historic headquarters. The cruise line will present a commemorative 150th Anniversary bell—in the style of a traditional ship bell—to be permanently displayed at the hotel. Princess Margriet will follow Holland America Line’s ritual of blessing the bell before it’s donated to Hotel New York

“Holland America Line is a company that takes deep pride in our heritage and respects the role we played in history, so our 150th anniversary events honor our tradition while recognizing the brand we are today,” says Antorcha. “All of the festivities we have planned carry special meaning, and we’re excited to celebrate with so many individuals who have been a part of our story throughout the years, alongside our guests, team members and the people of the Netherlands.”

Onboard Rotterdam

Throwback drinks on Holland America for its 150th anniversary.
"Throwback" drinks. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Onboard Rotterdam, Travel Agent has enjoyed historic touches that mark the company’s birthday. Most notable from our perspective are three happenings.

Historic Lectures

First, we love the anniversary-themed trivia and presentations by maritime historian Bill Miller. He’s a highly regarded authority on historic ocean liners, the development of the cruise industry and, in particular, Holland America. Presenting multiple lectures on this crossing, he'll also be aboard for other designated "Heritage Cruises" this year.

Simply put, he makes history a captivating experience. People want to go back to the next lecture immediately after exiting the theater from the previous one.

Drinks Back in the Day

Second, it’s been a hoot to sample two of the drinks served to past Holland America guests from back in the day at “Throwback Happy Hour.” This unfolds between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. within Billboard Onboard and the Rolling Stone Rock Room

Best of all, the guest is billed at “historic prices.” For instance, check out the photo at right for the "150th Dry Martini" at $.75 and the "Dutch 150" concocted from sparkling wine, gin and lemon for $.25.

Or, a tankard of lager is $.25, red, white or sparkling wine at $.75, and a De Lijn Gin and Tonic at $.50. All these "throwback drinks" will be offered on other "Heritage Cruises" this year. 

Origin Story on World Stage

Not to be missed is “Origin Story: Holland America’s First 150 Years,” a stirring, heartfelt live presentation that unfolds on Rotterdam’s World Stage throughout this week. (The good news is that it's presented on all ships fleet-wide throughout the anniversary year and into next year, as well.)  

During our Rotterdam voyage, we watched as a live presenter directed the action and engaged the audience, while historic scenes, artifacts and maritime settings unfolded across a curved screen that almost extends the full width of the theater.

Experts shown on the film (including Miller and others) add their perspective to the historic tales. One facet is the fascinating immigration story. Did you know that one in 10 immigrants coming to America during the period from the late 19th century and 20th century traveled to the New World on a Holland America ship? And while other transport ships served those immigrants two meals a day, Holland America served three full meals and also had better accommodations.

The Origin Story: 150th Anniversary of Holland America Line
"Origin Story: Holland America's First 150 Years" is a fabulous look back in history to the line's founding. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Also interesting is how Holland America reinvented itself. During Prohibition, the line created short “Booze Cruises," which transported people three miles out to sea past the U.S. border so alcohol was legally available. 

Decades later in the 1950s when airplane travel usurped the transatlantic liners' role in transporting people to/from Europe, Holland America transformed itself into a cruise vacation product.

More Anniversary Touches

A son of one of Holland America's founders perished in the Titanic sinking on April 14-15, 1912. Interestingly, today Rotterdam will stop at the site above the Titanic wreckage—which remains on the sea floor more than two miles down—for remembrance of the victims and a moment of silence.  

More historical touches? Menus in the Main Dining Room on this cruise include a dish or two from previous Holland America voyages dating to the 1920s. Once per cruise, the Captain’s Gala on every ship has an entire menu of classic dishes from past voyages. Of course, Dutch High Tea is served on the ship, plus a Rijsttafel pop-up gets under way in Tamarind.

Grand Dining Room, Holland America Line's Rotterdam
Dinner menus in Rotterdam's Main Dining Room now offer a dish or two from past Holland America voyages. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

For this anniversary year, the line has also developed its own De Lijn Gin and a special edition HAL Pilsner. That commemorative pilsner can is adorned with an iconic 1898 Holland America Line poster painted by Jan van Beers. In addition, loyal Mariner Society members receive a 150th Anniversary Royal Goedewaagen tile. Plus, guests can purchase limited-edition, specially designed 150th Anniversary retail items in the shops.

During the celebratory event on April 18 in Rotterdam, an original share of the first Holland America Line stock shares will be presented to be kept as part of a special collection in the city of Rotterdam archives. At the ceremony, PostNL, the postal office of the Netherlands, also will unveil a 24-karat collectible 150th anniversary gold-foil stamp to commemorate the special milestone. Available for purchase throughout the Netherlands, only a limited edition of just 1,000 will be produced.

Finally, after Rotterdam reaches the Netherlands on April 18, a Gala Dinner onboard the ship as well on Zuiderdam is on tap; celebrations aboard will then move to the Lido Pool for live music and a special toast. Anniversary-themed parties also will be held on the other ships in Holland America Line’s fleet.

For more information about Holland America Line, visit

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