Holland America experiments with music and dining changes

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A band performed classic rock covers in the Rolling Stone Rock Room. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

ONBOARD THE NIEUW STATENDAM -- The second Pinnacle-class ship from Holland America Line (HAL) is awfully similar to its predecessor, the 2,666-passenger Koningsdam, which debuted in 2016.

There are small differences. On an exterior staircase, transparent treads have been replaced by solid ones. 

"There were some people who got freaked out by the glass," said HAL president Orlando Ashford. "Some people liked it; some people didn't. We want people to go down the stairs."

But most of the new things on the Nieuw Statendam are a function of its being the newest ship in the fleet and thus the test lab for concepts that Holland America hopes to roll out fleetwide -- or at least to the other Pinnacle-class ships -- in the future.

The biggest experiment on the Nieuw Statendam is the addition of the Rolling Stone Rock Room, a partnership with Rolling Stone magazine and the first change to the Music Walk concept since it was created prior to the Koningsdam's introduction.

It means that the Deck 2 Music Walk now has three pop music venues: Billboard Live with a dueling piano format, B.B. King's Blues Club for rhythm and blues and the Rolling Stone venue for classic rock. The Rolling Stone takes the space formerly occupied by Lincoln Center Stage, with that classical music venue now sharing a stage with B.B. King's.

The band I heard at the Rolling Stone Rock Room was terrific. They played their butts off. The challenge was to devise engaging covers of tunes that every rock fan knows, and they delivered a playlist that included Billy Joel, ZZ Top, the Average White Band, Counting Crows, the Eagles, the Steve Miller Band and the Rolling Stones with aplomb.

The only glitch I could see was that on this transatlantic cruise, the energy level of the band was way above the level of the audience.

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Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The rock club will be added to the Koningsdam very soon, Ashford said.

Another concept in test mode on the Nieuw Statendam is Club Orange, which takes over the space that debuted on the Koningsdam as the Culinary Arts Center. That farm-to-table concept wasn't a solid winner, and when HAL forged a partnership with "America's Test Kitchen," it created some confusing crosscurrents.

R.I.P. Culinary Arts Center, which is now an exclusive dining venue for Neptune and Pinnacle suite guests. A limited number of club memberships are also sold, with the test price set at $50 per person, per day.

Club Orange serves breakfast and dinner from the main dining room, with dinner augmented by dishes prepared in the small Club Orange kitchen.

Michael Smith, senior vice president of guest experience and product development, said HAL will decide in several months whether to roll out Club Orange fleetwide. On non-Pinnacle ships, it would occupy a section of the main dining room, not its own room, he said.

There are some other notable changes. 

In the Asian restaurant Tamarind, the sushi component has been broken off into a free-standing sushi bar called Nami Sushi. The Sel de Mer bistro from the Koningsdam has been rebranded as Rudi's Sel de Mer, after culinary council head Rudi Sodamin, and features Sodamin's whimsical "Food Faces" plates.

In the Lido buffet restaurant, a tableside "call button" for beverage service is being tested, which could go a long way in eliminating the lag between the time guests sit down to lunch and when they get a glass of wine to go with it.

Finally, this ship has the Wonder Photo Shop, the digital photo center that debuted on the Eurodam in June, and the new fleetwide art vendor, ArtLink, which does away with the traditional art auction and instead sells art by emerging artists from the destinations the ship visits, at prices generally under $500.

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