Holland America Line on October 20 celebrated the "re-launch" of the Ryndam as the first ship in its fleet to have all the refurbishments and service enhancements that the company collectively refers to as its "Signature of Excellence" program. And company officials attending the ceremony in San Diego said that all the ships in Holland America's fleet will get the same treatment by the end of 2006.
In the next six months, Signature of Excellence improvements will be made to the Oosterdam, Westerdam, Zaandam, Statendam, Prinsendam and Rotterdam during their scheduled drydocks in Victoria, B.C. or Freeport, Bahamas, officials said, with the other vessels to follow suit in the months after that.
Some Signature of Excellence service enhancements are already being rolled out on Holland America's vessels, but the program also requires certain physical enhancements to the ships, including:
- Improvements to all passenger cabins, such as installation of flat-panel TVs, DVD players, plush "Euro-top" mattresses, 250-thread-count bed linens, Egyptian cotton towels, terrycloth bathrobes, magnifying make-up mirrors, and new hair dryers. In addition, the variety of programming for cabin TVs will be expanded.
- A new facility on all ships called the Explorations Café – Powered by the New York Times." This will be a "living-room style environment" with computer terminals for Internet access (including the electronic edition of the Times and NYTimes.com), a library that includes a selection of New York Times books, and glass-topped tables with New York Times crossword puzzles on them, which passengers can solve with grease pencils (if they are able).
- A new culinary arts program to be offered in the Wajang Theatre or Vista Lounge. Celebrity's chefs and/or guest chefs will provide cooking demonstrations that passengers can watch, either on large plasma screens in the theater or on TV in their cabins. Portable cooking stations will enable guests to participate in hands-on classes. The demonstrations will be free, but the classes will incur a charge, officials said.
- An expanded youth program. All ships will provide of Club HAL facilities for children age 3-12, including separate rooms for the 3-7 age group and the 8-12-year olds, as well as new teen areas for children age 13-18. The latter will include a teens-only lounge linked to an exclusive sun deck called The Oasis that will ban adults.
- Improved spa facilities. All ships will be equipped with a Greenhouse Spa and Salon that will offer not only the usual skin, hair and body treatments, but also new and expanded treatment rooms, a thermal suite (i.e. steam room) and hydro pool, along with heated chairs for relaxation.
- Refurbished dining rooms. Dining facilities will get new chairs and new china, as well as an overhaul of menus. All ships will have a reservations-only, surcharge restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill (it's already available on some); and the main dining rooms will have four seating times for dinner instead of two. Ships will also offer 24-hour room service.
Holland America and parent Carnival Corporation are investing $225 million in the fleet upgrade program, and they are not spending that kind of money "without expecting a return," said HAL CEO Stein Kruse. "You're not going to see dramatic price increases," he said – but there will be some increases in the future, especially as bookings continue to firm up.
Meanwhile, in response to a question from a New York City travel agent, Holland America officials said the line is thinking about basing a ship there for at least part of the year, and hinted that an announcement may be coming soon.