History of the Holland America Line – Holland America Line Cruises…

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

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.

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 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.

On April 3, 2008 Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corporation, stated that due to the low value of the US dollar, inflation and high shipbuilding costs, the company would not be ordering any new ships for their US based brands (Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises) until the economic situation improves.

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