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HOLLAND
AMERICA
LINE
NOORDAM
NOW ENTERING
THE RING

By Richard H. Wagner
(Originally published in The Log, Navy
League of the United States, New York
Council, Spring 2006)

CLICK HERE FOR PDF VERSION
OF THE ARTICLE
There were patches of ice by the aft pool when
MS NOORDAM, Holland America Line's
(HAL) newest ship, arrived at the Passenger
Ship Terminal for the first time on President’s
Day. This was only appropriate because unlike
numerous other cruise ships that have paid a
maiden courtesy call in New York on their way
from the builder’s yard to taking up residence in
sunnier climes, NOORDAM was here not just
for her dedication but to enter the market for
winter cruising out of New York.  For the last
few years, this market has been all but owned by
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) with other lines
only making occasional appearances during the
period January through March.  The market has
proved lucrative enough that NCL recently
assigned a second ship to year-round cruising out
of New York. (
See, The Log, Winter 2005 at
7).  But now, New Yorkers will have a choice
with NOORDAM offering 10 and 11-day cruises
to the Caribbean during February and March and
then returning in the fall to resume regular
sailings from Gotham to the sunshine.

      From a technological point of view,
NOORDAM appears similar to NCL's principal
New York offering, the
NORWEGIAN DAWN.
Both ships have azipod propulsion systems and a
similar maximum speed (24 knots for the HAL
ship and 25 knots for NCL).  NOORDAM is
935 ft. long with a 105-foot beam whereas the
DAWN is 965 ft. long with a 105-foot beam.  
However, as reflected in the ship's gross tonnage
figures, NCL packs more revenue producing
area into essentially the same physical space than
HAL (92,250 grt. vs. 81,769 grt.).  As a result,
when one is sailing on the DAWN on a sold-to-
capacity cruise one can encounter 2,223 fellow
passengers whereas on the NOORDAM, one
would only be sharing the ship with 1,917 other
passengers.  Indeed, the NOORDAM's
passenger capacity is less than the smaller of
NCL's offerings, the
NORWEGIAN SPIRIT.

      The difference in passenger capacity is
emphasized by HAL as an indication of what
differentiates HAL from its competitors.  
"Simply put, our ships carry fewer guests in
higher style," commented Tracey Kelly, HAL's
CTC Vice President, Sales, during THE LOG's
visit to the ship during her maiden call in New
York.  Whereas NCL sells informal "free-style"
cruising, HAL regards itself as offering "the last
word in premium cruising."   According to Kelly,
"You can feel a sort of dignity that recalls the
glamour of timeless ocean travel."         

      HAL began sailing to the Port of New York
even before there was a HAL.  In 1872, the
ROTTERDAM of Plate, Reuchlin & Company
made a 15-day crossing from the Netherlands to
Hoboken.  However, that company ran into
financial trouble and was reorganized as the
Netherlands-America Steamship Company the
following year.  Because it was headquartered in
Rotterdam and provided service to the Americas,
it became known as the Holland America Line.  
The new company did much better than its
predecessor and, by the turn of the century, it
had a fleet of passenger and cargo ships that
were providing service not only on the Atlantic
but also between the Netherlands and the Dutch
East Indies.  
During the 20th Century, HAL entered the front
ranks of the transatlantic passenger trade with
ships such as the luxurious STATENDAM of
1929 and the 36,000-ton art deco designed
NIEU AMSTERDAM of 1938.  At the same
time, it continued its cargo trade and vacation
cruises, which it had begun offering in 1895.  
Reflecting the fact that commercial jet liners had
taken away most of the transatlantic business,
HAL stopped offering regularly scheduled
transatlantic crossings in 1971 in order to
concentrate on cruises.

       In 1989, HAL became a wholly-owned
subsidiary of Carnival Corporation.  The
company now has 13 ships (a 14th is on order
for delivery in 2008) offering nearly 500 sailings
to all seven continents.

      "We've been respected for so long because
everyone of us keeps trying to honor our proud
tradition of excellence," Kelly explained and
indeed HAL's heritage is reflected in the
NOORDAM in several ways.  At the most basic
level, the ship sails under the Dutch flag rather
than a flag of convenience.  Along the same
lines, the officers are Dutch or British (the
current captain is British).  Echoing the days
when the line served the Dutch possessions in
the East Indies, 60 percent of the waiters and
crew are Indonesian.  (HAL points out that it
requires its employees to speak English.  It not
only teaches standard English but also slang
expressions and coaches employees on the
cultural peculiarities that distinguish North
Americans)

      Tradition is also reflected in the dining
onboard.  As in the days of the transatlantic
liners, dining centers upon the main dining
room.  A two-story room located aft, there are
two seatings in each tier, thus giving passengers
a choice of four times for dinner.  The line
prides itself on its attentive service and its five
course menus.  Indeed, both the service and the
cuisine were very good during THE LOG's visit
onboard, which was impressive considering the
room's 1,114 person capacity.  There are also
officer-hosted tables, which is an excellent
traditional touch that helps to build a connection
between the passengers and the ship.

      Also as in the days of the transatlantic
liners, there is an ala carte alternative restaurant,
the Pinnacle Grill.   Such restaurants were very
popular on the old QUEEN MARY and QUEEN
ELIZABETH, and is popular on the QM2
although the one on the QE2 proved a failure.  
For a fee of $20 per meal and an advance
reservation, passengers can dine in a more
intimate room (148 person capacity) on
"distinctive Bulgari china, elegant Riedel
stemware and Frette linens" with two servers per
table.  It is a pleasant room opening onto the
central atrium and extending over to the port side
windows.  The look is that of an upscale
Manhattan restaurant. Reflecting the line's
current connection to Alaskan cruising (8 of its
13 ships do Alaska cruises), its menu features
Pacific Northwest cuisines such as Alaskan king
salmon and northwest clam chowder, as well as
premium cuts of beef.
.
         Despite the respect shown for tradition,
NOORDAM also has what has become a
standard feature in modern cruise ships - - a
cafeteria a.k.a. food court.  While there is a
fundamental inconsistency about having a self-
serve food venue on a luxury ship, these food
courts have proven so popular that they are
omnipresent.  The one on NOORDAM is a
cut above the average.  There are a number
of stations each featuring a different cuisine, e.
g. Asian, Italian.  Not only is the food good
but once you have your food, you can take it
to a table area that looks as if someone
actually thought about the surroundings.  
Thus, rather than having the feel of sitting in
the food court of the local mall, one can
enjoy the food in comfort in what looks like
an upscale informal restaurant.

      In fact, one of the most striking features
of the public rooms in NOORDAM is that
they look as if someone engaged in some
thinking.  A flaw on some modern ships is
that one can stand at the bow end of the
public room decks and have an almost
unobstructed view of the stern end.  The bars
and other public rooms follow one after
another along a corridor submarine-style.  Of
course, when one is working with a confined,
essentially-rectangular area such as the
interior of a cruise ship, the rooms do have to
follow one after the next.  However, on
NOORDAM, there are curves and subtle
angles along the connecting corridor that
break-up the feeling of being in a parade of
rooms.

      The interior of the ship was designed by
a Dutch firm, VFD Interiors, headed by Frans
Dingemans, who has designed and decorated
the interiors of all the new HAL ships since
the STATENDAM of 1993.  The rooms
have the feel of a post-modern hotel with
high quality trim and fabrics.  In addition,
placed unobtrusively around the ship are
some good pieces of art including paintings by
maritime artist Stephen Card and as well as
pieces of Asian statuary.  "My experience in
the architectural world is that when you make
a very modern room you can easily add some
antique items to give interest and a reference
to the past.  You can add modern art to a
very conventional room as well.  That really
adds something to the experience in a room,"
Dingemans has said.

      Two of the public rooms are particularly
noteworthy because they reflect life in the
early 21st century.  First, the library is not
merely a collection of books but rather
incorporates an internet café ("powered by
the New York Times") with computer portals
and a coffee bar.     Second, reflecting the
popularity of cooking shows on television,
HAL has built a demonstration kitchen with
theater-style seating and large television
screens for those passengers who want to
think about food between meals.  A series of
celebrity chefs is scheduled to give
demonstrations on upcoming cruises.

      Like the public rooms, the cabins look
like a nicely-appointed, post-modern hotel.  
Eighty-five percent offer ocean views, with
67 percent of all staterooms sporting
verandas.  Unusually for a modern ship, a
few single-occupancy cabins were included as
one HAL official said "as an experiment."  

      The cabins include enhancements such
as flat-panel televisions and DVD players that
are part of HAL's $225-million “Signature of
Excellence” initiative to improve the quality
of its service fleet-wide.

      On the outside, NOORDAM looks like a
modern cruise ship rather than a traditional
passenger ship.     Indeed, the design is
essentially a rectangle with a small curved
bow area added at one end.  There is
relatively little open deck area.  However,
appropriately for a ship that will be traveling
from cold weather to warm, the ship’s main
pool is located under a retractable glass
dome.  This feature has proven very popular
on the other ships of the class.        

      NOORDAM is the fourth and final Vista-
class ship built for HAL by Italy's Fincantieri
shipyard.  Named (in Dutch) after the points
of the compass, the other ships in the class
are: ZUIDERDAM (2002), OOSTERDAM
(2003), and
WESTERDAM (2004).  They
are the largest, most advanced and luxurious
vessels ever built for the line.  

              NOORDAM differs from her
predecessors in that she has approximately 30
more cabins and thus can accommodate 70
more passengers.

      All of the Vista-class ships have
traditional diesel-electric power plants as well
as a gas-turbine unit to serve as a second
power source.  According to HAL, gas-
turbine technology reduces visible emissions
and can be used together with the diesel-
electric system when cruising in particularly
sensitive environments and while in port.  In
addition, the azipod propulsion system is
estimated to reduce fuel consumption - - and
thereby emissions - - by as much as 40 tons
of fuel per week.

      The $400 million NOORDAM will be a
formidable competitor in the New York
cruise market.  While she is not a destination
ship, i.e., a ship that is so distinctive that one
books a cruise on her just to be on her
regardless of itinerary, she is nicely designed
and there has been attention to detail.  

      Perhaps just as importantly, the line
exhibits a commitment to service, which, at
the end of the day, is what differentiates a
luxury ship from an ordinary one.    
NOORDAM
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