The 4 classes of Holland America ships, explained

May 23, 2021

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In the wake of a major downsizing in 2020, Holland America has a relatively simple fleet.

The storied, Seattle-based cruise line now operates just 10 vessels that can be bunched into just four groups.

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Each of these groups — known as “classes” in cruise industry lingo — is made of ships that were constructed around the same time to the same basic design. If you know one member of the group, you know them all.

An introduction to Holland America ships

Holland America has downsized its fleet considerably over the past year with the removal of four vessels. But it’s still one of the seven big lines that account for the majority of cruises taken by North Americans. It now has 10 ships that together offer more than 20,000 berths.

In general, Holland America operates big ships. But they’re not nearly as big as the vessels operated by the six other big lines that cater to North Americans. Indeed, in some cruising circles, Holland America’s ships are referred to as “mid-size” ships (as opposed to big ships).

In part, that’s because Holland America’s biggest vessels top out in size at about 100,000 tons. That’s nearly 60% smaller than the biggest ships operated by Royal Caribbean and 40% smaller than the biggest ships operated by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Some of Holland America’s vessels are as small as 61,000 tons, which is as small as some of the vessels operated by much pricier, smaller lines such as Oceania Cruises or Crystal Cruises.

What this means is that you’ll be in for a more intimate cruise experience on the typical Holland America ship than on the ships of such rival lines as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises. There will be fewer people on board, and venues may be less crowded.

On the flipside, in general, you’ll find fewer venues and amenities on Holland America ships than on the ships of its competitors operating bigger vessels. If you’re looking for a big, bustling megaship with every amusement known to humans, Holland America isn’t your line.

A key thing to know about Holland America ships is that there are a lot of similarities from class to class within the Holland America fleet.

Unlike some lines such as Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, Holland America doesn’t always drastically change the design of its ships from class to class.

Instead, Holland America usually takes an incremental approach to design changes for its new classes of ships. You’ll find a lot in common between Holland America’s Pinnacle Class of ships and Signature Class of ships, for instance. And these two classes aren’t all that different in feel than the earlier Vista Class.

In general, Holland America’s biggest and most amenity-packed ships are its newest ships. If you’re looking for a Holland America cruise experience with the most possible onboard activities and venues, you’ll want to steer toward the vessels in its new Pinnacle Class.

If cruising in the most intimate environment possible is your goal, you’ll want to look at Holland America’s oldest class of ship — its Rotterdam Class.

Pinnacle Class

Ships in class: Nieuw Statendam (2018); Koningsdam (2016); Rotterdam (coming in 2021)

Size: 99,863 tons

Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam. (Photo courtesy of Holland America)

If you’re in the “newer is better” camp when it comes to cruise ships, this is the Holland America ship class for you.

Holland America’s Pinnacle Class just began rolling out in 2016, and the two vessels in the series that have debuted so far — Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam — are significantly younger than any other vessel in the Holland America fleet.

They’re also bigger than any other vessel in the Holland America fleet and, as a result, boast more amenities.

Notably, in addition to a main restaurant and casual buffet, both of the Pinnacle Class ships have five separate specialty dining venues — everything from a pan-Asian eatery and an Italian eatery to a steakhouse. That’s more than you’ll find on other Holland America ships.

Pinnacle Class ships also have all of Holland America’s signature entertainment venues — something that can’t be said for the line’s older vessels.

Specifically, on Pinnacle Class ships, you’ll find one of the line’ signature Music Walk live entertainment areas with a B.B. King’s Blues Club (for Memphis-style rhythm and blues), Lincoln Center Stage (for chamber music), Billboard Onboard (for chart-topping hits played by a live pianist) and Rolling Stone Rock Room (for a live band playing classic rock). The latter is something that’s only found on Pinnacle Class ships for now.

The Pinnacle Class ships also have spectacular, state-of-the-art main theaters with push-out stages enveloped by two-story, 270-degree wraparound LED screens. The theaters are home to all sorts of additional music, dance and comedy performances.

The top decks of the Pinnacle Class ships have main pool areas that can be covered by a retractable glass magrodome during inclement weather. This makes these ships a good choice when booking a cruise in a destination where the weather can be iffy.

Each of the Pinnacle Class ships also has a secondary Seaview pool and lounge area at its back.

In addition, each of the Pinnacle Class ships has a spa, a casino and an extra-fee outdoor lounge area called The Retreat — the latter is a feature that first debuted with the Pinnacle Class. Also new on the Pinnacle Class are Holland America’s first ocean-view cabins for solo travelers.

Holland America currently has plans for three Pinnacle Class vessels in all. A third ship in the series, Rotterdam, currently is under construction at a Fincantieri shipyard in Maghera, Italy. It’s scheduled to be completed in the coming months and debut later this year.

Each of the Pinnacle Class ships is designed to carry 2,650 passengers at double occupancy.

Signature Class

Ships in class: Nieuw Amsterdam (2010); Eurodam (2008)

Size: 86,700 and 86,273 tons, respectively

Holland America’s 2,104-passenger Eurodam. (Photo courtesy of Holland America)

At around 87,000 tons, the Signature Class vessels are about 15% smaller than the Pinnacle Class ships, and they have a somewhat more intimate feel.

They also have a tad fewer amenities.

Like the Pinnacle Class ships, both of the Signature Class vessels — Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam — have a Music Walk entertainment area with a B.B. King’s Blues Club, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard venue, for instance. But neither of the vessels has a Rolling Stone Rock Room.

And you’ll find just three extra-charge restaurants on the ships — the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse, Canaletto for Italian and the pan-Asian Tamarind. Unlike the Pinnacle Class vessels, the Signature Class ships don’t have Rudi’s Sel De Mer, a brasserie created by top Holland America chef Rudi Sodamin. They also don’t have a Grand Dutch Cafe.

Still, the Signature Class ships are similar in look and feel to the Pinnacle Class ships.

Like the Pinnacle Class ships, the Signature Class ships have main pool areas that can be covered by retractable glass magrodomes during inclement weather and secondary pool areas at their backs.

The ships are designed to carry about 2,100 passengers at double occupancy.

Vista Class

Ships in series: Noordam (2006); Westerdam (2004); Oosterdam (2003); Zuiderdam (2002)

Size: 82,305 tons

Holland America’s Westerdam sailing in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Holland America)

Comprising four vessels, this is the biggest group of Holland America ships. It’s thus the class of Holland America ship on which you are most likely to sail.

In size, the vessels are just a tad smaller than the Signature Class ships — about 5% smaller, to be exact. But they are designed to carry about 9% fewer people at double occupancy. This means that they have a slightly more spacious feel than the Signature Class vessels.

Their slightly smaller size, though, also means there are slightly fewer amenities.

To wit: The four Vista Class vessels offer just two specialty restaurants: Holland America’s signature Pinnacle Grill steakhouse and the Italian restaurant, Canaletto. Unlike the Signature Class, there is no pan-Asian dining venue.

The main entertainment offerings on the Vista Class vessels are identical to what’s found on Signature Class ships — a Music Walk entertainment area with a B.B. King’s Blues Club, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard venue.

Like the Pinnacle Class and Signature Class ships, the Vista Class ships have main pool areas that can be covered by retractable glass magrodomes during inclement weather and secondary pool areas at their backs.

Rotterdam Class

Ships in series: Zaandam (2000); Volendam (1999)

Size: 61,396 and 61,214 tons, respectively

Holland America’s Zaandam. (Photo by Ivan Pisarenko/AFP/Getty Images)

The Rotterdam Class ships are significantly smaller than the rest of the ships in the Holland America fleet — about 25% to 38% smaller — and have a more cozy feel.

Because of their smaller size, they also have fewer features and amenities than the ships in the other Holland America classes — particularly the ships of the newer Pinnacle and Signature classes.

In general, these are ships that appeal to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience on a cruise than what you’ll find on the bigger ships. They also draw cruisers who care more about the destinations they visit on a cruise than onboard attractions.

Along those lines, Holland America often deploys the Rotterdam Class ships on its more far-flung, destination-rich itineraries, including lengthy around-the-world cruises.

For the coming year, for instance, Zaandam is scheduled to sail a 128-day around-the-world cruise out of Fort Lauderdale (starting on Jan. 3, 2022) that includes stops in North America, South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. On this single voyage, the vessel will sail up the Amazon River in Brazil; transit the Panama Canal; visit Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, India, Oman, Dubai, Jordan, Israel and Turkey; transit the Suez Canal; and make multiple stops in Europe.

At about the same time that Zaandam is heading off around the world, Volendam will be departing for a complete circumnavigation of South America. The 74-day journey is scheduled to start on Jan. 4, 2022.

Despite their smaller size, the Rotterdam Class ships offer the same number of pool areas (two) as their bigger sister vessels, with one pool area covered by a retractable glass magrodome.

Each of the vessels has two specialty dining venues: Holland America’s signature Pinnacle Grill steakhouse and the Italian restaurant, Canaletto.

Entertainment options on the Rotterdam Class ships include a main theater for shows, a Lincoln Center Stage for chamber music and a Billboard Onboard venue for live piano music.

Bottom line

The Holland America fleet is relatively easy to understand. There are just four types of ships in the Holland America fleet, and — for the most part — they aren’t too different from each other.

Holland America believes strongly in offering a consistent product from ship to ship, and it doesn’t make revolutionary changes with each class of vessels it unveils.

The big difference between the line’s four classes of ships is the size of the vessels in the classes. If you’re a fan of bigger ships with more amenities, you’ll probably gravitate to the new Pinnacle Class vessels. If you like your cruise ships more intimate, you’ll probably want to stick with the Rotterdam Class vessels.

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Featured image courtesy of Holland America.

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