Home > ALL POSTS > History of the Holland America Line…
History of the Holland America Line…

History of the Holland America Line…

Liner History would not be complete, without studying the venerable Holland America Line.


One of the last lines to offer Trans-Atlantic crossings on a regular basis before the Jet took the fun out of crossing the pond.


 With a 135-year maritime history, Holland America Line is one of the oldest names in cruising but remains dedicated to offering guests ‘once in a lifetime experiences’ by keeping up with the times.


Its fleet of 15 elegant, modern ships sails worldwide, ranging from popular seven-night Caribbean and Alaska cruises, to Europe, the Panama Canal and as far afield as South America, New Zealand and Asia.

The HAL liner SS NIEUW AMSTERDAM in the 1950s with the SS UNITED STATES

The Holland America Line was founded in 1873 as the Dutch-America Steamship Company (Dutch: Nederlandsch-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij), a shipping and passenger line. Because it was headquartered in Rotterdam and provided service to the Americas, it became known as Holland America Line (HAL). Its headquarters are now in Seattle, Washington.

(Left: the latest HAL cruise ship: NIEUW AMSTERDAM)  The first ships sailed between Rotterdam and New York in 1872. Until scheduled transatlantic passenger transport ended New York (Hoboken) remained the main American terminal. Other services were started later that century to South America and Baltimore. A pure cargo service to New York was added in 1899. In the early years of the 20th century other North American ports were added to the service. In the first 25 years of its existence the line carried 400,000 people from the old to the new world.

(Left: HAL’s Nieuw Amsterdam – 1960s…)Though transportation and shipping were the primary sources of revenue, in 1895 the company offered its first vacation cruise. Its second leisure cruise, from New York to the Holy Land, was first offered in 1910. In 1971, HAL suspended its transatlantic passenger trade and, in 1973, the company sold its cargo shipping division.

In 1989, HAL became a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the largest cruise line in the world. Today, the company operates 14 ships to seven continents and carries nearly 700,000 cruise passengers a year.

Holland America excels in service, amenities and special programmes, and although it doesn’t lay claim to be in the top-of-the-tree class, it deserves its place among the premium cruise lines.

Its ships have one of the highest staff-members-to-guest ratios, and statistics show that its staterooms are on average 25 per cent larger than the norm and even the standard staterooms measure 197sq ft against the industry average of 147. Seaview accommodation offers both bathtub and shower.

Menus are among the most extensive at-sea. Dining choices include formal elegance, alternative specialty dining in the Pacific Northwest-themed Pinnacle Grill, something more casual and complimentary 24-hour room service.


Dining in the First Class Dining Room (with orchetra in the balcony) aboard the SS Nieuw Amsterdam in the 1950s… The SS Nieuw Amsterdam was one of the last great trans-Atlanic liners and was considered the most beautiful along with the SS Normandie… 


Holland America Line produced some noted ships from the 36,000 gross ton SS Nieuw Amsterdam of 1937, probably the only large passenger liner at the time that was not completed with any expectation of serving for the military, and the SS Rotterdam  of 1959, one of the first ships on the North Atlantic to be equipped for two class transatlantic crossing and one class luxury cruising. By the late sixties, the golden era of profitable trans-Atlantic ships was over, and the remaining routes were siphoned off by the airlines. The early seventies saw the end of the trans-Atlantic service, leaving the North Atlantic for Cunard’s RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.

In 1971, Holland America abandoned its passenger transportation service and switched to running cruise ships full time. Since then, the company has become known for wide variety of destinations it sails to. After obtaining government approval to visit Antarctica in the 1980s, the line now visits all seven continents. Its MS Prinsendam makes annual “Grand Voyages” that usually last more than 60 days. These explore and circle more exotic destinations such as South America and Africa. Due to the increasing popularity of the exotic and rarely-visited ports of call featured on Grand World Voyages, the MS Amsterdam will offer the Grand World Voyage in addition to the Prinsendam’s Grand Voyages in 2007 and 2008. 2008 is also the 50th anniversary of Holland America Line’s Grand World Voyage and will feature a true circumnavigation of the globe. In 2009, the sister-ship to the ms Amsterdam, MS Rotterdam will complete the Grand World Voyage.


(Left: Horse racing crossing the Atlantic)The line operates fourteen ships, ranging from the smaller and older S Class vessels; the mid range R Class; the Vista class; the newest and largest Signature class and the small 793-passenger Prinsendam (originally the Royal Viking Sun, then Seabourn Sun  until HAL’s purchase of the vessel in 2002). All HAL ships have a dark blue hull with white superstructure, with the line’s logo featured prominently on the functional smoke stacks.

In addition to its fleet of cruise ships, Holland America also owns the Westmark hotel chain which operates in Alaska and the Yukon, and Worldwide Shore Services, which provides warehouse and logistical support for the company. HAL shares its headquarters in Seattle’s Uptown Queen Anne, Seattle, Washington district with the above mentioned subsidiaries. Finally, HAL owns “Half Moon Cay” (its own private island in the Caribbean, officially known as Little San Salvador Island); nearly all of the line’s cruises through the region spend at least a day there.

The line’s his­to­ry, most­ly Dutch, is found in the decor and am­bi­ence on board. But Hol­land Amer­ica (HAL) has al­so done an ex­cel­lent job over the years of up­dat­ing to ap­peal to a broad­er range of guests. The re­sult: Fairly priced, clas­sic ships that are re­fined yet mod­ern­ized.

Hol­land Amer­ica of­fers a tra­di­tion­al cruise ex­pe­ri­ence, but with mod­ern de­tails. In the ships’ pub­lic ar­eas, you see flow­ers that rep­re­sent Hol­land’s promi­nent place in the flo­ral in­dus­try, In­done­sian fab­rics and wood­carv­ings that evoke the coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with its for­mer colony, and sea­far­ing mem­ora­bil­ia that of­ten harkens back to Hol­land Amer­ica’s own his­to­ry. But the line has spent con­sid­er­able mon­ey re­fur­bish­ing and up­dat­ing its fleet of mid-sized ships with a spe­cial fo­cus on cui­sine.

Aware of food­ie trends, HAL cre­at­ed state-of-the-art Culi­nary Arts Cen­ters for on­board cook­ing lessons and food lec­tures, and has ap­point­ed fa­mous chefs (Mar­cus Samuels­son and David Burke) to serve on a Culi­nary Coun­cil to im­ple­ment new menus through­out the fleet. Al­so as part of the up­grade, spa cab­ins have been added and sev­er­al ships now have new re­sort-like pool ar­eas.

Em­brac­ing brand­ing for some pro­grams, the line offers Dig­ital Work­shop Pow­ered by Win­dows com­put­er class­es (com­pli­men­ta­ry); and a won­der­ful ocean-view me­dia/lounge/cof­fee shop area called Ex­plo­rations Café, brand­ed with The New York Times. A new program in conjunction with ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars” brings professional dancers onboard (including stars from the show on select sailings) to teach passengers ballroom dance routines.

Who’s on­board? Lots of old­er cou­ples and sin­gles, but es­pe­cial­ly on the com­pa­ny’s big­ger ships in the Caribbean you’ll al­so find some younger fam­ilies with kids en­joy­ing new­ly ex­pand­ed youth fa­cil­ities.

Where they go: The ships vis­it more than 300 ports, reach­ing all sev­en con­ti­nents. Pop­ular itineraries in­clude Alas­ka, Eu­rope, Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Cruise History, cruising the past, holland america line history, history holland america line, Liner History, ss Nieuw Amsterdam, ss Rotterdam, ss United States, Ziegfeld girls, Ziegfeld follies, 1920s, social history 


View Latest Articles