HAL revamps onboard program to enhance the destination experience

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A rendering of the new Explorations Central space that will be brought to Holland America vessels starting next year.
A rendering of the new Explorations Central space that will be brought to Holland America vessels starting next year.

Holland America Line has unveiled a program aimed at enhancing passengers' experiences in each destination.

The program, known as Explorations Central (EXC for short), was revealed by the cruise line during an online presentation on Wednesday.

"EXC is a programming wrapper around which we engulf all of the things that we do from a destinations perspective," said Holland America president Orlando Ashford. "It touches on a number of different things, whether it's shore tours, speaker and lecture series, TV programming, educational resources, port guides, port maps [or] pre- and post-cruise exploration. And in addition to that, exploring a cruise region through digital media and virtual technology."

On some ships, the implementation of the new program will include a transformation of the Crow's Nest. In those cases, the space will be renamed Explorations Central and will combine existing elements, such as a library and sitting area, with new resources, such as digital media and e-books. EXC features will also include a virtual ship bridge with real-time data from the ship's actual bridge.

"The library is part of our legacy at Holland America Line, so we'll continue to have libraries, but our library will evolve, and we'll leverage digital books and some of those online tools," Ashford said.

EXC programming will begin to be implemented in early 2017 and will be rolled out across the entire fleet by the end of the year. The EXC shipboard center will debut aboard the Westerdam in April following a scheduled dry dock and will be installed across the rest of the fleet by 2018.

Holland America said programming will provide guests with digital storytelling and interactive video content on subjects relevant to their travels, such as food and the arts.

There will be a dedicated EXC Team onboard each sailing that will provide customized guidance for each destination. Guests can ask EXC Guides for advice on which are the best tours, the most popular sites in any given destination, and where to go to feel like a local.

EXC Talks by EXC Guides are being designed to educate guests about local customs and to provide additional insights into each port of call.

EXC Encounters will offer up locally based cultural representatives who will come onboard before the ship reaches the next destination to offer additional insights from a local perspective. Examples include the opportunity to learn how to play the steel drums from a Trinidadian or to make a flower lei with a native Hawaiian. EXC Encounters also will include informal, small-group sessions hosted by the EXC Guides on topics like language and cultural etiquette lessons or participatory programs involving music, dance and storytelling.

EXC Port Guides will be available for passengers to take with them when they exit the ship; the handbooks will offer tips and information for the specific destination, compiled from Afar Media, for the destination they are visiting. Passengers can also print EXC Port Maps, which will highlight recommended sites that are easily reachable from port.

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