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“We’re excited to continue to share the next chapter in our bold new story,” said Holland America Line’s (HAL) president Orlando Ashford to a group of journalists splayed out across loungers in the ms Koningsdam’s Crow’s Nest. The ship was docked at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades en route to the Southern Caribbean when we gathered to hear the latest news from the Carnival Corporation brand.

Without skipping a beat, Ashford launched into a summation of HAL’s latest news, beginning with the upcoming debut of the Explorations Central destinations center.

A rendering of The Library in Explorations Central (EXC).
A rendering of The Library in Explorations Central (EXC).

Destinations Focused
Explorations Central, or EXC is a multifaceted experience that will allow passengers to engage in travel-related enrichment opportunities at various spaces inside HAL ships’ revamped Crow’s Nest.

Bill Prince, the line’s v.p. of entertainment and enrichment, took our group on a tour around the Koningsdam’s Crow’s Nest for a glimpse of a few of the experiences that will roll out this May on the ms Westerdam before being introduced on other ships in the fleet later this year and into 2018.

“We wanted to build a world-class physical manifestation of the discovery of the ports to which we sail,” said Prince. “We have reinvented our destinations experience around the EXC brand.”

A rendering of Explorations Central's Hub.
A rendering of Explorations Central’s Hub.

At The Hub, guests can toggle through an interactive map table offering unique port information, such as suggestions on where to find the best art in Rome and food and drink options in Mykonos, or, guests can take the old-fashioned route to learning about their itinerary’s destinations with a read from The Library’s curated collection of books on history, art and culture, geography and food. Light bites, coffee and Sudoku puzzles are offered at The Explorations Cafe, while The Virtual Bridge gives guests a “behind-the-scenes” look into the inner workings of their ship and its systems through a screen display.

In addition, EXC will feature an intimate theater space to allow for smaller group activities, such as a book club, EXC encounters with locals, and presentations. If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t fret, because a full EXC Team will be on hand to interact with guests and answer their questions.

In partnership with “O, The Oprah Magazine,” Oprah Winfrey will be sailing on the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise to Alaska July 15, 2017.
In partnership with “O, The Oprah Magazine,” Oprah Winfrey will be sailing on the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise to Alaska July 15, 2017.

O-mazing Partnerships
“Alaska continues to be wildly successful and something that people enjoy,” said Ashford during the presentation. “It’s [our] 70-year anniversary of taking folks to Alaska, so we are in the midst of that celebration, so [we will add] a lot of fun and exciting touches to our sailings this summer.”

As part of HAL’s partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Winfrey and other members from the publication’s team will sail to Alaska on July 15, 2017 for the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise. These cruises will offer exclusive programming developed with the magazine’s editors, including editor-in-chief Lucy Kaylin and creative director Adam Glassman, such as meditation, tai chi, healthy cooking demonstrations, an onboard book club and more.

Four additional O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise sailings will be available in the Southern Caribbean (Koningsdam), Eastern and Western Caribbean (Nieuw Amsterdam), and Alaska (Eurodam) through 2018.

HAL's "BBC Earth" live concerts are a feast for the eyes and the ears.
HAL’s “BBC Earth” live concerts are a feast for the eyes and the ears.

In addition, HAL has teamed up with “BBC Earth” to immerse guests in the natural wonders of the world through filmed presentations, live multimedia shows, enrichment experiences, children’s activities and themed cruises.

“There will be a new BBC Earth experiences Alaska show that’s in development for the summer season in support of our 70-year anniversary and all the things that we’re doing in Alaska,” said Ashford.

We caught a 20-minute abridged version of the 1-hour Frozen Planet: A Visual and Musical Journey at the Koningsdam’s live stage and were wowed not only by the breathtaking footage from the “Frozen Planet” TV series, but also the precision of the live orchestra.

A rendering of the ms Nieuw Statendam. 
A rendering of the ms Nieuw Statendam.

In Other News
A few other tidbits to keep in mind this year are:

The launch of the ms Nieuw Statendam: “The new Statendam will be coming in fall 2018, and will be christened in Fort Lauderdale in late January 2019,” said Ashford. The 2,650-passenger ship will feature several of the venues on its sister-ship the Koningsdam, as well as new concepts that will debut on the newbuild.

The announcement of HAL’s Third Pinnacle Class ship: More information is yet to come on this third Pinnacle Class ship, but what we can tell you is that is coming in 2021 and will be very similar to the Koningsdam and Statendam.

The Queen's Lounge on deck 2 of the Koningsdam hosts the eight-piece B.B. King's All-Stars Band.
The Queen’s Lounge on deck 2 of the Koningsdam hosts the eight-piece B.B. King’s All-Stars Band.

HAL’s Music Walk Expansion: HAL will introduce its Music Walk experience on six more ships by the end of the year. Each night, three stages present a variety of live musical acts, including the Lincoln Center Stage, where musicians perform multiple programs of chamber music each evening; the B.B. King’s Blues Club/Queen’s Lounge, featuring the eight-piece B.B. King’s All-Stars Band; and Billboard Onboard, an interactive experience where guests can listen to live musicians perform chart-topping hits from the last 50 years while learning information about the bands through a touch screen.

The debut of the first Rijksmuseum at Sea: Coming to the Westerdam this May, the Rijksmuseum at Sea will be a creative salon inspired by Amsterdam’s grand museum, where guests can create their own works of art, whether it be a drawing, photography or doodle. The museum will feature a studio space with life-sized reproductions of artworks from the Rijksmuseum, drawing tables, sketchbooks and pencils, plus instructors.

The Launch of Rudi’s Sel de Mer Pop Up Restaurant: “We are going to have a Rudi’s Sel de Mar pop up [on other ship’s in the fleet], so that people can get touches of the same things that [we’re] very excited about here on the Koningsdam,” said Ashford. HAL’s master chef Rudi Sodamin says he always takes inspiration from the iconic Cote d’Azur, which guests can see in the restaurant’s gourmet seafood dishes.

HAL's  Culinary Arts Center hosts the America’s Test Kitchen cooking shows.
HAL’s Culinary Arts Center hosts the America’s Test Kitchen cooking shows.

America’s Test Kitchen Fleet-Wide Introduction: HAL’s shipboard cooking shows, “America’s Test Kitchen,” will be rolled out across its entire fleet by the end of the year. Get the entire scoop on this popular initiative by taking a look at a previously published Recommend article here.

Half Moon Key 20th Anniversary: In honor of the private island’s anniversary, HAL will be offering a variety of celebratory activities, including a beach party at every call on the island, and some new experiences on the island that have yet to be announced. The line has also launched a new lobster shack on the island.

In Case You Missed It: We had the opportunity to sail on Koningsdam last year, with the full report in this June 2016 onboard review; make sure to stay tuned throughout the year for more HAL updates.

For more information, call (877) 724-5425 or visit hollandamerica.com.