A Tradition of Excellence

It’s a relaxing day at sea aboard Holland America Line’s Westerdam as we sail south towards Cabo San Lucas. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

You might recognize the above header as Holland America Line’s old(er) tagline. I still like it. I still think it applies, too. Holland America Line has been in business for over 140 years, and during that time the company has continually reinvented itself. It’s a process that continues to this day.
I’ve been away from Holland America for just four years and I’m frankly amazed at all of the changes I see around me as I stroll the decks of the Westerdam. Some of them I lament, like the slow but steady removal of all the classic teak deck chairs that used to populate every corner of the ship. But that’s balanced out by all of the enhancements the line has added in the past few years, many of which are truly exciting.

This morning, I took in one of Holland America Line’s new “America’s Test Kitchen” culinary cooking events. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This morning, I took part in the first America’s Test Kitchen show in the Queen’s Lounge…er, the Culinary Arts Centre…er, B.B. King’s Blues Club. All these spaces are one and the same, and it’s causing some real confusion onboard, as not all of the ship’s signage has been updated (that’s going to happen in the spring, when Westerdam gets her 2017 drydock makeover). Until then, just go to “that room on Deck 2 between the Casino and the atrium”, as one guest put it.
Westerdam is the first ship to have the new America’s Test Kitchen program onboard. It will be rolled out across the entire fleet by June 2017. It has been designed exclusively for Holland America Line, and features live cooking demonstrations, hands-on classes, and promotes culinary experimentation for those who love to cook, regardless of ability or skill level.

Westerdam is the first ship in the fleet to have these new cooking classes, which are a lot of fun, even for non-chef’s like myself. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Even better, the Queen’s Lounge – or whatever we’re going to call it these days – was packed. I mean packed with people. America’s Test Kitchen host Abby walked guests through how to make Asian dumplings (bao) at home, and video tutorials even showed guests what sort of steamer to buy, and how they could make their own do-it-yourself steamer in a pinch.
At 45 minutes in length, it wasn’t too long or too short. Personally, I think Holland America hit the jackpot with this; it’s what the old Culinary Arts Center always should have been, but wasn’t.

Savor the Journey

Savor the Journey: take a walk around Westerdam’s gorgeous wraparound Promenade Deck. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The one thing that I am truly impressed with so far is the sheer amount of destination-relevant cultural activities that are on offer, courtesy of our Mexican Ambassadors. To me, this is huge – it elevates Holland America above its peers, and more closely mimics a small-ship experience in terms of the history and activities on offer.
Today, for example, guests can make paper flowers with the Mexican Ambassadors at 9:00 am; take in a traditional Mexican folkloric performance at Noon; learn how to salsa at 2:00 pm; Merengue at 3:00pm; and learn to speak Spanish at 4:00 pm in a class that focuses on what most of us will do: order food and beverages.

What better way to celebrate Gala Night onboard Westerdam than with a martini…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…in the Ocean Bar on Deck 3. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Another bonus is the new “Explorer” booklets guests are given. Loaded with details on your itinerary and ports of call, it replaces the god-awful “Port and Shopping Maps” that used to be distributed. While Holland America’s new maps still show the location of every Diamonds International in the city, they also show the entire town – and suggest local restaurants and noteworthy points of interest. Huge improvement.
As for me? I participated in the Salsa class before enjoying a brisk two-mile walk around Westerdam’s gorgeous wraparound Promenade Deck. This was followed by a refreshing dip in the Greenhouse Spa’s Hydrotherapy Pool, and a trip to the thermal suites as the sun went down over our starboard bow.
Then, it was time to dress for dinner.

Pinnacle Nights: The Biggest Steak I’ve Ever Eaten

Welcome to…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…the Pinnacle Grill. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Since tonight is our Gala Formal Night onboard, I chose to dine at the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America Line’s extra-charge specialty steakhouse. Located on Deck 2 surrounding the Westerdam’s central atrium, the Pinnacle Grill is an elegant affair, with tables available by the windows, in the cozy central area of the dining room, or adjacent to the atrium, where diners are placed behind an elegant sheer curtain that separates them from the hustle and bustle of this central square.

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