Having breakfast on the seventh floor at the Marriott Grand Flora Hotel in Rome, I look out to the Vatican in the distance – St Peter’s dome proudly anchored for all believers to see – as the city wakes up. It seems the only good thing about jet lag is waking early and watching everything emerge from the darkness; a good thing about jet lag is waking early and watching everything emerge from the darkness; a good brisk walk is often the best way to start the day. A quick coffee and a piece of Sfogliatella Napoletana ricotta, the glorious sunrise, a flutter of birds in the distance, the moon disappearing… I understand why Rome is called the Eternal City. It is also the place to embark the brand-new Holland America ship MS Koningsdam.
The name honours the first king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander. The brand spanking MS Koningsdam smells new, a mix of fresh paint and lots of happy, proud, smiling staff.
It’s bright and shiny, the largest ship in the fleet and part of the company’s new pinnacle class.
Designer Adam Thihany and ship architect Bjorn Storbraaten have created light-filled public spaces that seem larger than most ships of this size, with interiors inspired by the curves of musical instruments. The music walk is at the heart and soul of what’s available in entertainment with the BB King’s Blues Club and Queen’s Lounge, the Billboard Onboard lounge, and the Lincoln Center Stage, all forming an avenue of entertainment.
It was the Lincoln Center, an oasis of culture, that I spent most nights pre-dinner, soaking up chamber music – an exclusive partnership with the performing arts centre in New York, the music is outstanding. The World Stage, with wraparound 270’ LED projection digital screens, is located at the end of the avenue with singing and dancing showcases reaching another level of professionalism. It’s packed each night, and i watched magician Jamie Allan, live flamenco music and dancing, a Beatles tribute act, opera and a dance concert called Musicology as we cruised through the Mediterranean to Spain.
New Zealand’s cruise passengers grew 10 per cent in 2015, with 66,152 holidaying on the water last year; in the US alone cruise travel has outpaced general leisure travel by 22 per cent. This new interest in cruising has seen a massive change with cruise ships now designed to appeal to passengers’ cultures and pay homage to ports of call. Cruise lines now partner with big brands to leverage cross-promotional opportunities while onboard experiences and amenities are unprecedented – from Broadway shows and designer shops to luxury branded toiletry items, zip lining and bumper cars. This year, we are seeing more cruise volunteerism available and intergenerational cruising is increasing in popularity as amenities grow to satisfy every age.
Holland America’s strategic nature history partnership with BBC Earth showcases a range of documentaries and will in time include lectures and even game shows on board.
For me, the Lincoln Center is the stand-out in the line-up of entertainment, through it is perhaps the food on board that really sets this new ship apart in the very competitive world of cruising, “In terms of entertainment, we have definitely upped our game,” says cruise director Jonathan Rogers.
He is originally from Canada and worked for Nike before working afloat. “We have a new logo, new uniforms, new designs on te ships, yet familiar traditions are still in place for those globetrotting enrichment seekers we want to attract.
Our first dinner was at Sel De Mer – “sea salt” in French – a smaller seafood brasserie serving classic French dishes including moules frites, salt-crusted baked branzino and crispy fried whitebait. I began with an entrée of souffle au fromage – who can resist a double-baked goat’s cheese souffle? It was, however, the bouillabaisse Marseillaise with red mullet, lobster claw, sole, prawns, snapper, clams, mussels, saffron, potato, fennel and orange zest served with a giant baguette that stole the show, as did the extraordinary wine list. As they say in France, delicieux!
Returning to our suite I cannot believe the size of the shower, which features a foot rest if you want to shave your legs (optional, of course). With space enough for two, it has to be the largest shower on the high seas. There’s an espresso machine and a comfortable, good-sized bed. An office table and chair, sofa and coffee table all look out to a wide veranda, the perfect spot to watch sea and land drift by. And who doesn’t love a chocolate turndown, with complimentary laundry and dry cleaning included?
The Lido market is an onboard avenue of dining experiences, and the setting for breakfast each day. It feels much like a busy marketplace and you can order food to go – perfect to get a salad or sandwich made for lunch.