Holland America rolls out their Signature of Excellence program on board the refurbished Maasdam

Not too long ago…, some of us still remember…, taking a cruise was a very special experience. Indeed, in those days, a vacation at sea was magnificent bliss where all provided services were exceptional; meal preparation and presentation were comparable to the world’s finest restaurants and formal wear was more than an obligation, passengers enjoyed dressing up every night to wine and dine in the lap of luxury!! Why doesn’t anyone want to get dressed up anymore?!

Now, don’t get the wrong idea, cruise vacations are still the way to go, though with today’s competitive market demand, diversity and frequency of available voyages, the various cruise lines have had to cut corners in order to remain in the game. Of course, there are high-end cruise lines that still maintain a certain glitter from the past but they can carry a heavy price tag!

A pleasant surprise and well worth a serious look is what Holland America Line (HAL) has to offer. The cruise line has not only kept up with the times but pride themselves with excellent amenities that makes one reminisce of days gone by. Indeed, the friendly staff goes out of their way to ensure an enjoyable cruise experience whether it is assisting with extra needs for your stateroom, special dining requests or any other day to day information and guidance. Customer service is definitely the key ingredient! Yes…, they still have their traditional formal nights for wining and dining and rightfully so, dressing to the nines certainly is in line with the luxurious environment!

The Maasdam’s elegant dining room

The Maasdam’s elegant dining room

The 140 year old cruise line consists today of fifteen ships that are categorized in five classes. They include the smaller and older S class ships, the mid-sized R class, the Vista class that provides more ocean view and verandah staterooms, the newer and larger Signature class that have vessels that can accommodate more than 2100 passengers and the Flagship, the Prinsendam that has a capacity of only 835 guests and provides the most exotic itineraries. In 2015, a new Signature class vessel will be launched that will have a passenger capacity of approximately 2600.

A few years ago, Holland America initiated a revised quality program, the Signature of Excellence, which includes the upgrading of existing ships with the addition of specialty restaurants, a unique and private lounge area for suite guests, an impressive culinary arts center that provides daily cooking demonstrations, better stateroom amenities, improvements in the typical dining experience and a higher grade of entertainment throughout the vessel.

Throughout 2013, a new program entitled “On Location” will be introduced on board all ships which will feature local specialists and entertainers from the area being explored. Guests will learn about local culture, cuisine and entertainment thus providing a better understanding of local customs while enhancing ports of call visits.

My most recent voyage taken was on the beautiful MS Maasdam. The liner was initially launched in 1994 and was upgraded in 2006 in accordance to the aforementioned program. Though this smaller ship has only a capacity of 1258 passengers, don’t let the size fool you! It seems spacious and certainly caters to all desires; from seeing a movie at the theater, to working out in a fully equipped fitness center, treating oneself to a special pampering at the spa, trying your luck at the casino, participating in cooking or high tech informative sessions or just relaxing on the deck, the pool area or at one of the several bars and lounges.

Half Moon Cay is Holland America’s private island with an outstanding beach, dining facilities, and it’s paved walkways make it wheelchair accessible

This eleven day Eastern Caribbean voyage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, visited St. Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Barbados, Martinique, St. Croix and Half Moon Cay (Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas). All are exotic and beautiful while offering plenty of things to do and see!

It is important to mention that in your well-equipped and newly renovated stateroom, there are three helpful guides that assist in planning your day being that of visiting the port of call or partaking in the activities on board. The handy Explorer general guide provides an overview of all destinations during the journey, specialty dining, events, and entertainment and is quite informative. The Shore Excursions guidebook highlights the various tours available and organized through the cruise line for each island of visit. The island tours and activities are very popular and reasonably priced and should be reserved as soon as possible in order to avoid disappointment. A four page Daily Guide provides a checklist of activities on board and this particular section is perforated and can be detached in order to use as a quick reference. Great idea!

In addition to the elegant main dining room that offers outstanding meals, service and presentation, the MS Maasdam’s specialty restaurants should not be missed for a fine dining experience.

The Canaletto restaurant, named for a Venetian artist, offers classic Italian dishes such as Linguini Fruitti Di Mare and Penne Alla Boscaiola in a traditional, casual setting. The complete four course meal and service are excellent and well worth the additional $10.00 per person charge.

The Pinnacle Grill offers an elegant and intimate dining experience with delicious and enjoyable steak and seafood meals that are stunningly presented. As always, service is exceptional and friendly and the additional $25.00 per person charge is more than reasonable.

One night a week, the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into the seagoing version of the legendary Le Cirque restaurant. This critically acclaimed restaurant was first opened in New York City by Sirio Maccioni, recognized as one of the world’s best restaurateurs. The meals are prepared in accordance to the original Le Cirque recipes and presented on fine china with the restaurant’s design. The Le Cirque Lobster Salad, Chateaubriand and famous Crème Brulée should not be missed! This dining event is very special and inexpensive at $39.00 or $59.00 with wine pairing.

In conclusion, Holland America has kept up with the times though still maintains tradition and service excellence. As the MS Maasdam’s Hotel Director Frank Ulbricht stated, “At Holland America, we have a very high rate of loyal, return customers”. With what is offered and maintaining an impressive objective to continuously improve, it is not difficult to understand the reasons why.

Holland America’s MS Maasdam can be seen in the Port of Montreal this summer as it presently has sailing dates between Montreal and Boston until the end of September 2013.
To find out more about Holland America Line, you can visit www.hollandamerica.com or call 1-877-SAIL HAL.