My first attempt at blending an expensive red wine on a cruise was a waste of fine grapes. Fortunately for everyone in the room on Holland America Line’s new Koningsdam, we had started with tiny samples before venturing into the concocting process for an entire bottle.
After much give and take, with kind suggestions from the expert leading our class, my final batch was a smooth, dry red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, two different Merlots and a splash of Cabernet Franc, all from Chateau Ste. Michelle vineyards, Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge Estate.
My private bottle, hand labeled Chateau Molyneaux Best Red Guess, was no $8 special from the low shelf at a corner drug store. The quality liquids might sell in a wine shop for $80-$90 a bottle, said the instructor. I carried it to dinner with great care and an appreciation for having a highly drinkable souvenir (wine class fee, $129).
Wine blending was a highlight of a cruise on the 2,650-passenger Koningsdam, which, after an inaugural summer season in Europe, is now cruising out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Koningsdam is HAL’s first new ship in six years (a sister, Nieuw Statendam, follows in 2018), its largest, and a new class of ship that represents a highly successful effort by the venerable cruise company to focus on dining, entertainment, and contemporary design to remain highly competitive with other premium cruise lines that also are enhancing their products.
Koningsdam is Holland America’s prettiest vessel, a step up from the darker, traditional, more staid ships of the past, with more modern interior design, including great swaths of work by Adam Tihany.
The ship is musically themed, from its paintings of instruments, musicians (including Jimi Hendrix) and atrium sculpture inspired by harp strings, to its well-designed live performance area called Music Walk.
In the Walk, the ship has built an exciting, after-dinner gathering hub for passengers, with separate venues for its music, ranging from blues and pop to classical. The resounding sounds were created in partnership with B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard magazine, and Lincoln Center, presenting an array of musicians performing each night.
B.B. King’s features Memphis-trained singers and an eight-piece band to draw a lively crowd to a popular dance floor. Billboard Onboard offers pop by singers on dual pianos. Lincoln Center Stage highlights quieter, classical music, with strings at the center. The ship's World Stage provides live song-and-dance production shows performed in the round, LED screens in the background, which are perfect for Frozen Planet Live, with footage from the BBC nature show and live music by the Lincoln Center Stage orchestra.
Such performances give Koningsdam a lively feel. This is a Holland America Line goal − balancing its traditional cruising style, which draws a large portion of older repeat passengers, with jazzier, upbeat activities and entertainment to lure younger passengers.
Koningsdam also updates dining styles and menus, both in the main dining room and in alternative restaurants.
New are Sel de Mer, a seafood brasserie with à la carte dishes (for a fee) ranging from fresh oysters to salt-crusted whole fish and bouillabaisse, and the Grand Dutch Café, which serves (without fee for most food) tasty Dutch snacks, such as pea soup, pickled herring, and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, as well as Dutch pale lager beer (for purchase).
In a re-worked (no fee) Lido, now called the Lido Market, passengers may select from a buffet or choose made-to-order options from five themed stations. The Lido Market has lots of seats, lots of choices from around the world, good traffic flow, and, at each entrance, unusual hand washing stations for passengers. No longer do you need to make a restroom stop to prepare for a meal; just stick your hands into two inviting holes, where they are sanitized in a full cycle of water, soap and an air dry.
Not new to HAL but expanded on Koningsdam is the restaurant Tamarind, a favorite of Holland America passengers for fare from Southeast Asia, Japan and China. On this ship Tamarind has added a sushi bar, because, as we all know, sushi is in.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, and on Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com .