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Holland America Line
Signature of Excellence

What does it take for a cruise line to remain cutting edge in today's fast changing times? First, it's a stretch to stay up-to-the minute on land, not to mention at sea. For instance, only recently have travelers come to naturally assume that hotel accommodations will feature broadband access for their laptops (and complain loudly if they don't find it). That technology is one kind of cutting edge. However, another is as simple as a good night's sleep. Think about that and I'll get to it in a minute.

A Long Tradition of Excellence
Not content to rest on their long standing reputation for the highest standards in comfort and service, Holland America Line has introduced a suite of innovations that prove they are no longer your grandfather's cruise line. We went aboard Zaandam in December 2005 to experience the Signature of Excellence initiative and discover for ourselves what sets Holland America apart from the competition.

Explorations Cafe
Cruise passengers are explorers by nature so it makes perfect sense that they are also communicators. Availability of a few computers in an otherwise unused corner just doesn't cut it these days. Enter the Explorations Cafe.

Far more complex than it sounds, Zaandam's Explorations Cafe raises the bar when it comes to computer centers and libraries afloat. It's that and more. "Powered" by the venerable New York Times as a partner, not only can you access the Internet for email and browse the shelves for a best-seller, you can also work the Times' crossword puzzles embedded in tabletops (using a thoughtfully provided grease pencil) or kick back in reclining chairs and listen to music while watching the passing seascape. 

The surroundings are so comfortable that it's easy to nod off. Unless, of course, you've stopped for one of the really excellent specialty brews at the coffee bar. In that case, as long as you're awake, you might want to go online check your stocks or find out what's going on back home. In addition to the daily summary of headline news stories delivered to the cabin, you have free access to The New York Times' website.

Best of all is the availability of wireless technology with hot spots in several areas throughout the ship. For those of us who take work along when we travel (yes, even on a cruise), WiFi at sea is a dream come true. I was able to effortlessly send stories to from my laptop.

Culinary Arts Center
Food, not to mention its preparation, has always been a premier component of a cruise vacation and Holland America's Culinary Arts Center lifts it to an art form. Think of your favorite television cooking show, then think of seeing it in person. Imagine yourself in the audience or right up there as the chef's assistant. That only begins to describe a cooking demonstration in the Culinary Arts Center. With a state of the art kitchen at their fingertips, Holland America chefs whip up entrees and side dishes with aplomb, all the while explaining how you can do the same at home and answering the questions of budding chefs. They put on quite a show--as entertaining as it is educational.

If you're really serious about cooking and want to take a hands-on approach, for a modest fee you can sign up for a private class. Roll up your sleeves and learn the secrets to pulling off a successful cocktail party or an elegant dinner for friends.

Will I be impressing anyone with what I learned? This very timid cook, who sticks to basics, will never again be intimidated by risotto. With the tricks I learned, hopefully, I won't be staring at a pot of what appears to be lumpy wallpaper paste. The Zaandam chefs are super heroes in my cookbook.

Culinary Arts Centers are located in the Wajang Theaters (Queen's Lounge on Vista-class ships), but don't worry--as always, there are still movie screenings and the popcorn is free.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Paul Muller, Zaandam's Hotel Manager, which Signature of Excellence feature has proven to be the most popular with passengers. It came as no surprise when he revealed it's the beds. Holland America Line has installed premium Euro-top mattresses in all staterooms and dressed them with high end 250-thread-count linens and cushy non-allergic pillows (just ask if you prefer a feather-filled pillow). It's impossible to relax and truly sleep well on a pancake-thin mattress with a lumpy pillow and scratchy sheets. But it's heavenly to slip into bed on a Holland America ship.

To enhance your comfort even further, Holland America now provides Egyptian cotton towels in bathrooms at every level of accommodation. The bath towels are huge--the size of bath sheets--and a total luxury. Waffle bathrobes lined in terrycloth are also available for use during your cruise, as is a high power hair dryer to plug in at the vanity table. You'll also find a swing-out 5X magnifying mirror with halo lighting for applying make-up.

When relaxing in your cabin you can munch on goodies from your complimentary fruit basket while watching DVDs on a flat-panel television. It really doesn't get much better than this, unless you're a teenager (or have one). In that case, read on...

More... Signature of Excellence Part 2

Images Courtesy of Holland America Line

More - Holland America Line - Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line - Cruise Line Profile

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