For Mark Zeller, being a Holland America hotel manager "is like a
family tradition." His father worked for HAL as a hotel manager for 43
years. After Mark finished his university degree in hotel management
including an internship with Hilton International, "I just wanted to do one
contract on a cruise ship to see why my dad enjoyed working on ships so
much. So I did that one contract and 11 years later, I am still here."
Mr. Zeller's latest assignment for HAL has been to manage the hotel
operation of the Nieuw Amsterdam during her inaugural season. Of the
880 crew members aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam "about 750 are part of
the hotel department."
Zeller is pleased with the way Nieuw Amsterdam has performed. "We
are a new ship. The ship came out July 4  from the shipyard in
Venice. It usually takes about a year for a ship to settle in then start
performing to is expected level. But this ship from the start when we did
our Mediterranean season, it was very successful in what the guests
"We are the biggest ship in the Holland America Line fleet together
with the Eurodam. We are both the same size and the same capacity. On
average, we have about 2,100 guests."
"She is a beautiful ship - - almost a carbon copy of the Eurodam. But
the interior has this recurring theme of Nieuw Amsterdam and old New
York, you see it everywhere. We have also made a few changes like no
more brass. It is now changed to chrome, which gives us a bit more
contemporary look and which has a much nicer look to it. The guests
always say what a beautiful ship this is. Especially our Mariners who
have been on many of our ships, feel that this ship is prettier than the
other ships that we have in the fleet."
Nieuw Amsterdam is a slightly enlarged version of the Vista class
ships that began with the Zuiderdam in 2002. The extra space enables
Nieuw Amsterdam to have some features that the Vista ships do not
have. "We have the Silk Den [Bar] and the Tamarind Restaurant. We
have cabanas on Deck 11 forward behind the Crow's Nest and also in the
Lido Pool area midships so you can have your own private little area."
The cruise experience on the Nieuw Amsterdam is the premium cruise
experience offered throughout the Holland America fleet. I asked Mr.
Zeller what differentiated the HAL cruise experience from more mass
market cruise experiences.
"One of the biggest things is the staff versus guest ratio. Its about 1 to
2.3. That means much better service."
"Our strongest point is our crew. We have two main nationalities in
our service staff - - Indonesian and Filipino. The Indonesian staff are in
the dining rooms and house keeping. Then the Filipino staff is in the
beverage and galley operations. Unlike other cruise lines which have 60
or 70 different nationalities, we have our two main nationalities coming
from countries where service is always at a very high level."
In order to be hired for a Holland America ship, applicants "need to
have experience in restaurants or hotels. They [also] need to have a
certain proficiency in English."
After an applicant has been hired, he or she must first attend a Holland
America training school before joining a ship. The school for the
Indonesian staff is in Jakarta. "They go through a six week training
course where they will learn the Holland America Line way of serving a
meal or making up a room. We actually have mock rooms there of
different types of staterooms that we have onboard so they see already
what type of rooms we have. They have the menus that we have on the
ships so they can get familiar with the foods and what the foods look
"In Manila, we have the Filipino training school for our beverage
staff and our galley staff. There is a restaurant where they actually
prepare the menus that we serve onboard. So our staff gets trained by our
"Because we have those two main nationalities, you see that the level
of service is very consistent throughout the fleet [at] a very high level.
What I hear from guests who go to other cruise lines and then come back
to Holland America Line is that the level of service is not always as
great as they experience here. The crew makes us premium."
There is also a different focus to the activities and entertainment
onboard an HAL ship. "We do things that intellectually challenge
people. The Digital Workshop where we provide free training in
Microsoft Windows [for example].. We are not doing rock climbing or
surfing on the back deck. It is more intellectually orientated. Of course
we do fun activities as well. We have Wii games, golf chipping, pool
games - - those kind of things as well."
In addition, HAL prides itself on attention to detail, presenting small
touches of luxury. Recently, all of the HAL ships went "through the
Signature of Excellence [program] where the quality of the towels, the
quality of the mattresses that we have [were upgraded]."
Moreover, many of these small luxuries are included in the cruise
fare. "We have free ice cream throughout the day, freshly squeezed
orange juice - - it is those little things that make us premium, more
upscale compared to Carnival, Costa, Royal Caribbean."
Above: A cabana on Deck 11.
Below: Crew members bid farewell to the
guests at the end of a cruise.
Above: A string quartet plays before dinner.
A conversation with Mark
Zeller, Hotel Manager of the
by Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship interview - Holland America Line - Nieuw Amsterdam - Hotel Manager - Mark Zeller
A large mural of New York (a.k.a Nieuw
Amsterdam) in the Explorers Lounge.