Holland America Line (HAL) can be summed up in one word: tradition. The company was formed way back in 1873 as the Netherlands-America Steamship Company, and its ships today strive to present an aura of history and dignity, like a European hotel where they never let rock stars register. Thanks to its acquisition over the years of numerous land-based tour operators, Holland America also has positioned itself as Alaska's most experienced and comprehensive cruise company. The company has seven ships in the Alaska market in 2012.
Though most of HAL's Alaskan fleet is relatively young, the ships are designed with a decidedly "classic" feel -- no flashing neon lights here. Similarly, Holland America's ships are heavy on more mature, less frenetic kinds of activities. You'll find good bridge programs and music to dance (or just listen) to in the bars and lounges, plus health spas and the other amenities found on most large ships. Service is excellent, delivered by a crew mostly trained at the line's own schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. The line has improved its nightly show-lounge entertainment, adding magicians, comedians, and the like. Alaska Native guides are onboard most Glacier Bay-bound ships, offering their local insight. With fewer kids on these ships than some of the other mainstream lines, the Club HAL children's playrooms are small, but the program is nonetheless big on creative activities. A recently launched "as you wish" dining program allows guests to choose either a set time or anytime dining for dinner. Alaska itineraries include 7-night Inside Passage cruises and 7-night Gulf of Alaska cruises.
Passenger Profile -- Holland America's passenger profile used to reflect a much older crowd. Now the average age is dropping, thanks to an increased emphasis on its Club HAL program for children and some updating of onboard entertainment. Still, HAL's passengers in Alaska include a large percentage of middle-age-and-up vacationers.
Ships -- The 1,260-passenger Statendam boasts cabins with sitting areas and lots of closet and drawer space, and even the least expensive inside cabins run almost 190 square feet, quite large by industry standards. Outside doubles have either picture windows or verandas. The striking dining rooms, two-tiered showrooms, and Crow's Nest forward bar/lounges are among these ships' best features. The somewhat newer 1,432-passenger Volendam and Zaandam, the 1,350-passenger Veendam, and 1,380-passenger Amsterdam, are larger and fancier, with triple-decked oval atriums, nearly 200 suites, and deluxe staterooms with private verandas, five showrooms and lounges, and an alternative restaurant designed as an artist's bistro, featuring drawings and etchings. The smallest cabin is a comfortable 190 square feet. The Zuiderdam and Westerdam, two of the newest vessels in the fleet, weigh 82,300 tons and carry 1,916 passengers. These are sophisticated, spacious, yet intimate ships well equipped to support HAL's position as a force in the Alaska market. Sample nightly rates per person: Lowest-price inside cabin $118, lowest outside cabin $147, lowest suite $333 for a 7-night cruise.