by Richard H. Wagner
(Originally published in The Log, Navy
League of the United States, New York
Council, Summer 2008)
Captain Jonathan Mercer
On 12 October, more than 50 Navy Leaguers joined with members of the Cornell Club of New
York, the World Ship Society and the Steamship Historical Society for a brunch aboard the
EURODAM, the latest addition to the fleet of Holland American Line (HAL).  EURODAM went
into service in July following a dedication ceremony by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.  The
86,000 gross ton luxury cruise liner is the lead ship in a new class of ships and is the largest ship
yet for HAL.  After completing her maiden European season, EURODAM came to New York for
a short series of cruises before moving on to Florida for the winter.  

A Line With Tradition

Holland America is one of the world's oldest passenger ship companies.  Its history extends back
to the 1870s when it began taking passengers, including a large number of immigrants, from
Rotterdam to New York.  Not long thereafter, the company went into freight transportation and
even some early pleasure cruising.  It also expanded geographically, serving the Dutch colonies in
Asia and the Pacific - - a tie that can be seen today in the artwork onboard and in the large number
of Indonesians who man HAL ships.
By the 1930s, the line had established a reputation for reliable, well-run ships.  Reflecting its
increasingly upscale clientele, the company launched the 36,000 gross ton NIEU AMSTERDAM
in 1938.  An art deco masterpiece, the ship is remembered as one of the grand floating palaces of
the golden age of ocean liners.
During World War II, several of the line's ships were captured by the Germans in the invasion of
the Netherlands and several more were sunk.  However, others escaped and were enlisted in the
Allied cause.  The NIEU AMSTERDAM was converted into a troopship, bringing her passenger
capacity up from 1,220 to 9,000.
After the war, Holland America returned to the Atlantic service.  However, during the winter
months, its passenger ships would do cruises in the Caribbean and other warm locations.  The
transatlantic liners were not well-suited to this work as they were not air conditioned and offered
little in the way of onboard entertainment.  However, over time, new ships were built and existing
ships refitted so as to be more attuned to warm weather and HAL developed this aspect of its
business, introducing such innovations as a "cruise director" who would organize passenger
activities and entertainment on such voyages.
This focus proved fortuitous because by the early 1960s, commercial jet airliners had captured
95 percent of the transatlantic passenger business.  HAL ships began to do fewer and fewer
crossings and more cruises.  To help contain costs, the company's headquarters were moved from
Rotterdam to New York and large numbers of Indonesians were employed in the hotel department.
At first, the company concentrated on cruises to Bermuda and Nassau from New York in the
summer and cruises from Florida to the Caribbean in the winter as well as annual world cruises.  
But in the 1970s, HAL saw the potential in cruises to Alaska and purchased Westours, the largest
tour operator in the Pacific Northwest. This gave HAL the ability to offer both Alaska cruises and
land packages in what became a very popular market.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Carnival Cruise Line had grown from a shoe-string operation with one
used ship into the most profitable and fastest growing company in the passenger ship business.
(See The Log, Fall 2007 at p. 21).  In 1987, its owners formed Carnival Corporation to act as a
holding company for the Fun Ship line and any other company it might acquire.  Equipped with the
proceeds from a successful initial public offering, Carnival began to look for acquisition
candidates.  High on its list was Holland America, with its up-scale clientele, hundred year
history and leading position in the Alaska market.  HAL was the perfect complement to the mass
market party cruising of Carnival Cruise Line.  After initially rejecting Carnival's overtures, HAL
agreed to be acquired for $625 million in 1989.

A New Fleet

Carnival Corporation's philosophy with regard to the cruise lines it acquires is not to make them
over in the image of its original mass market line.   Instead, recognizing that different styles of
cruising appeal to different market segments, Carnival gives considerable autonomy its
subsidiaries, which now include Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Cunard Line, Costa Cruises,
AIDA, and others.  As a result, while HAL is able to take advantage of the efficiencies of the
purchasing power of the overall enterprise, HAL maintains its own headquarters, its own
corporate officers, its own employees and follows its own traditions.
One of the advantages of belonging to the Carnival family is access to capital for building new
ships.  Even before the acquisition, HAL had planned to expand its fleet.  After the acquisition, the
company was able to embark on a $1 billion ship building program.
The first step was the construction of four 55,000 gross ton ships known as the Statendam-class
or S-class between 1993 and 1996.   Built at the Fincantieri shipyards in Italy, these ships were
larger than any previous HAL ship.  Nowadays, however, they are often referred to as HAL's
"small" ships.
These were followed in 1997 by the 59,000 gross ton ROTTERDAM, which was an expanded
and faster version of the S-class.  Three more slightly larger R-class ships were subsequently
produced by Fincantieri for HAL.
The next class of ships was quite a bit larger and a completely different design.  These were the
four Vista-class ships of 85,000 gross tons which were capable of carrying more than 1,850
passengers.  The first of these debuted in 2002 and the most recent, the NOORDAM, went into
service in 2006 (
See The Log, Spring 2006 at p. 9).
 As a result, at the beginning of 2008, the HAL fleet consisted of the 12 ships that were built after
the Carnival acquisition and the PRINSENDAM (formerly the ROYAL VIKING SUN), which
came into the Carnival family as a result of Carnival's acquisition of Cunard Line in 1997.   These
ships were deployed to Europe, the Caribbean, Alaska and on extended sojourns to South
America, Australia and even the Antarctic.  They have a reputation for sophisticated cruises that
were somewhat more formal and traditional than some other lines.

The Embodiment of a Vision

To maintain its reputation for high quality cruising, Holland America embarked on a program in
2003 called the Signature of Excellence.  "In short, we promised to elevate our already five-star
experience, bringing it to a whole new level of excellence," Stein Kruse, President and CEO of
Holland America, has explained.  Under this initiative, HAL has spent $425 million dollars on
enhancing its fleet including the dining arrangements, accommodations, activities and amenities.  
The idea was to re-invent Holland America in a way that both recognized its traditions and
incorporated contemporary concepts about a premium cruise experience.
When it came time to think about a new ship, management began with the vision of HAL that it
had developed in the Signature of Excellence initiative.  It then took the popular Vista-class
design and built the ideas that had been developed during the Signature program into it.  The result
was a new class of ships, which HAL calls the "Signature-class."  EURODAM is the first ship in
this class.
The Signature-class does not abandon what has gone before.  Like the other ships in the HAL
fleet, EURODAM has an extensive art collection reflecting its Dutch history and the line's
connections to Asia.  Its interior spaces are examples of cosmopolitan contemporary design - -
there is no neon or glitz.
Also, HAL wanted to maintain the intimate atmosphere of its existing fleet.  Accordingly, the
number of passengers is kept relatively low so that there is more space per passenger.  Indeed,
while EURODAM is some 4,000 gross tons larger than NOORDAM and has an additional deck,
her passenger capacity is only 200 people more.
EURODAM has all of the popular features and amenities that were built or retrofitted into her
fleetmates.  There is the Culinary Arts center where chefs demonstrate how to prepare gourmet
dishes, the movie screening room, a wine tasting bar, the combination library-premium coffee bar-
internet center, to name a few.  However, recognizing the cruising public's desire for more
alternative dining arrangements, EURODAM adds a new Pan-Asian restaurant and an informal
Italian restaurant.  The growing interest in health and wellness is recognized with the introduction
of suites that have special access to the spa so that passengers can turn their cruise vacation into a
spa retreat.  There are also more facilities for families in recognition of the rise of
inter-generational travel.  Thus, EURODAM builds upon and goes beyond the existing HAL fleet.

The Captain Speaks

Captain Jonathan Mercer joined the visitors to talk about his ship.  Although EURODAM and the
other ships in the HAL fleet are registered in the Netherlands, Captain Mercer, like approximately
50 percent of the officers in HAL, is British.  "I was with the British merchant navy for over 30
years.  I started as an apprentice cadet, got my master's ticket or license then went to large
cross-Channel ferries in the United Kingdom.  In late 1994, I was approached by Holland
America Line, which was at that time building their S-class - - STATENDAM, MAASDAM,
RYNDAM and VEENDAM, - - and had insufficient Dutch officers to man the ships.  They
decided to put another nationality into Holland America and I was asked if I would lead the way.  
Now, 14 years later, I am pleased to say that it is 50/50 British and Dutch. But a challenge for not
only us but the entire cruise industry is the lack of certificated, qualified officers and crew for that
matter.  There are not enough to go around the cruise industry or the shipping industry in general."
"On the technical side, EURODAM features the latest state-of-the-art navigation and safety
systems. The vessel is powered by six MAK diesel generators, four 12 cylinders and two 8
cylinders and propelled by the latest Azipod propulsion technology."
This gives EURODAM a top speed of 23.9 knots.  "She is faster than you actually sail.  Most of
our itineraries [call for] 21 and a half knots, just to keep something in reserve."
As noted earlier, the design for the EURODAM began with the Vista-class design.  However, an
additional deck and other amenities were added giving the ship more weight.  "In handling
qualities she is somewhat heavier than our Vista-class and as a consequence slower in reacting;
that having been said, she is still extremely maneuverable. In my time on board, I've already been
able to test the ability of the ship with some exciting navigational challenges. In my first departure
as captain of EURODAM, the wind and current in Quebec were so strong that we were literally
pinned to the pier. The next morning on approach to Saguenay, we sailed through heavy fog, and
strong winds greeted us at Corner Brook as well. We finally had a break in the weather at Halifax,
but EURODAM and all 86,700 gross tons of her handled each challenge swimmingly. As I
mentioned before, she is bigger and heavier than the Vista-class ships and the ballast
arrangements are improved. Because of this, she tends to take seas better."
"She has a lot more stability.  I have just come off the OSTERDAM [of the Vista-class], so I
noticed the difference straight away.  I had my doubts when we were going down near
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and it was pretty rough sea.  We had just over 20 knots to
make and you would not even know we were at sea.  She was doing 20 knots in a Force 8 and she
didn't move [i.e. pitch or roll]."
Since Holland America ships travel to Alaska and other environmentally sensitive areas, the line
is attuned to environmental issues. "We are very proud of our environmental record.  We spent
billions of pounds in developing our recycling plants for grey and black water and our recycling
of aluminum and glass is second to none.  We have a set goal each year to improve ourselves and
in fact, the last figures I saw showed we were doing 22 percent more recycling than the goal that
corporate had set us this year.  The days are gone where any dumping goes on.  There are rigid
environmental regulations which we adhere to.  We have a staff officer who is solely responsible
for overseeing our environmental commitment toward the sea and our stewardship of it."
On EURODAM, waste recycling begins with "a microbiological system.  It also goes through
filters and ultraviolet [light].  At the end of the day, we actually use the resulting water in our
technical spaces, it is that clean.  Some of the solids are dried then burnt in the incinerator and
used in the heat management system."
In sum, "she is a wonderful ship and I am more than impressed with everything I have seen."
Cruise ship feature article - Holland America Line - Eurodam