Holland America celebrates 150th anniversary

By Carl Dombek

Seattle-headquartered cruise line Holland America turned 150 years old this year, and the line recently pulled out all the stops to celebrate that milestone.

First, a bit of history

Holland America line was founded in 1873 in Rotterdam, Netherlands as Nederlandsch-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij, which translates to Netherlands American Steamship Company or, in short, Holland-Amerika Lijn. It started as a shipping and passenger line and carried 400,000 people from Europe to the Americas during its first 25 years of operation.

It offered its first vacation cruise in 1895 but its second vacation cruise wouldn’t come for another 15 years, in 1910.

At the start of World War II, the line had 25 ships; only nine remained at the war’s end. One of those ships, the Nieuw Amsterdam, sailed a half-million miles and transported 400,000 military personnel. After the war, the line was instrumental in transporting a wave of immigrants to the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, including some members of my family. More on that later.

By the late ‘60s, trans-Atlantic jet travel brought to an end the “golden age” of trans-Atlantic passenger ships.

In 1980, the line’s headquarters were moved from New York to Seattle, a cost-saving move that some credit with saving the company. Holland America was purchased by Carnival Corporation in 1989 and is now one of nine lines under the corporate banner.

The celebration

On Friday, May 5, Holland America hosted a celebratory evening aboard the Noordam, and my wife and I were privileged to be among the guests. Fellow revelers included members of the Port of Seattle, Visit Seattle (the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau), the illustrator who designed the 150th anniversary poster, bloggers including The Geeky Hostess Tara Theoharis and myself, vendors who created and supply the line with custom goods; people who, in ways large and small, have contributed to the line's success.

Fellow guests in the Noordam's main Dining Room

The evening started with a toast to the line’s landmark anniversary in the ship’s Rolling Stone Lounge. 

A champagne toast to HAL's 150th Anniversary

To mark the occasion, Holland America commissioned a signature pilsner from Seattle’s Pike Brewing Company and a custom-distilled gin, created in the style of a Dutch genever (rather than the London dry style) by Blue Spirits Distilling in Cashmere, Washington.

Dutch-style gin, custom-distilled for the occasion

Through February and March, the line held a nationwide 150th anniversary poster contest, inviting people to design a poster commemorating the anniversary. The reception included the presentation of the winning poster and the introduction of the illustrator who created the winning design, Austin Thomas of Seattle.

Austin Thomas and his winning poster

On to dinner in the main dining room where we enjoyed appetizers, entrees and desserts designed by the line’s six-member Culinary Council of noteworthy chefs, including Rudi Sodamin, Ethan Stowell, and David Burke (all from the Pacific Northwest) and Jacques Torres, Jonnie Boer and Andy Matsuda.

Noordam's menu designed by the Culinary Council

Those at our table enjoyed starters of the baby beet salad, crab cakes, French onion Soup, and sushi roll trio, among others. Entrees included lobster tail, halibut with prosciutto, New York strip loin, and more. Desserts rounded out the meal, with two of us opting for a fruit and cheese plate while others had tarts and other sweets.

Lobster tail entree

New York Strip and Frittes

After dinner, guests strolled Music Walk and sampled features on World Stage, Billboard Onboard, the Rolling Stones Lounge, the piano bar, and more. All in all, a very nice – if brief – taste of what awaits on our next cruise.

On a personal note 

My wife and I have a special connection to Holland America line. My very first cruise experience was a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC in 2000 aboard the MS Volendam. As I would later learn, my wife’s paternal grandmother and four of her children – my wife’s aunts and uncles – emigrated from post-war Germany in 1950… aboard a Holland America ship also named Volendam.

The ships themselves were not one and the same. My cruise was on the MS Volendam (Volendam 3), which entered service in 1999, while our relatives came to the U.S. aboard the SS Volendam (Volendam 1) which sailed from 1922 to 1952. And although the coincidence still seems amazing to us, Holland America’s Director of Public Relations, Erik Elvejord, said the story of being able to trace our roots in America back to a Holland America voyage is actually quite common, noting that late musician Eddie Van Halen, his parents, and brother Alex came to America aboard the SS Ryndam in 1962.

Congratulations, Holland America!  Here's to another 150 years of successful sailings!

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
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