Sure, high-activity cruises with zip-lines, waterslides and wave runners certainly have a place in our hearts, but what if you don't want the hustle and bustle? Change up the pace with incredible dining, destinations and live shows aboard ms Koningsdam.
While the Koningsdam happily welcomes families with kids of every age (and the HAL Kids' Club and all that it offers is proof), the Koningsdam really shines for families with older kids. Following a recent cruise with my two 13-year-olds, here's what we liked - and didn't - aboard HAL's new ms Koningsdam.
The Koningsdam-at-a-Glance: the ship has twelve decks and offers itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. Each year, she also makes a transatlantic voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Rome, and from Rome through Greece and Istanbul, eventually arriving in Amsterdam.
The Music Walk on Deck 2
The Koningsdam theme is music, and indeed, the ship is layered in live musical shows, high-end musical art pieces, and even elevators that digitally announce each deck's name (we stayed on Deck Beethoven; Gershwin, Mozart and Schubert are deck-represented, too).
But it's the Koningsdam "Music Walk" on Deck 2 that truly scores with several different "stages" (so to speak), all with different genres. The first is the World Stage that features a theater-in-the-round with a 270-degree LED screen (that rises two stories high). My husband and I caught "Off the Charts - Billboard Hits Rewind" show with live musicians and vocalists. The show was so impressive that I raced to the teen club and hauled my boys back to watch the 10 p.m. show. Their review: "really good!"
The venue rotates several acts throughout the year, including ABBA Fab (billed as "the Ultimate Tribute to Abba"), dance numbers with insanely talented dancers, comediennes and highly skilled Instrumentalists.
But it's the Koningsdam's Frozen Planet performance that HAL is particularly proud of. The line has partnered with BBC Earth - the team that produced "Blue Planet" and "Planet Earth" -- and pairs live instrumentalists on stage with the Frozen Planet show playing on the enormous screen behind. Through the magic of video, you're taken into an icy world where polar bears, wolves, orcas and many more live out their wild lives.
Music Walk for Parents
Several venues along the Music Walk cater more to adults, but kids are welcome. The B.B. King's Blues Club is an eight-piece group with two vocalists who play blues classics to an energetic and often packed dance floor. Billboard Onboard boasts two grand pianos and two pianists performing hits from the official Billboard charts. The pianists sing and take requests, and cocktails are served "piano-side." The Lincoln Center Stage sparkles as a concert hall for classical music performances. Performers play popular hits and movie scores, and often the musicians will share thoughts and insights about a specific piece.
Club HAL on Deck 11
Kids of every age will be drawn to the Koningsdam's Club HAL. The kids' club divides kids up into three distinct spaces: kids (3 to 6), tweens (7 to 12) and teens (13 to 17). The spaces aren't huge, but each has wowza sea views. My boys loved The Loft, the teen area, and raved about the quality of video games. The space is meant to look all hipster-loft, and teens can chill with movies, music and games.
The tweens group (7 to 12) has a load of activity including air hockey, Xbox 360, Wii and large screens for TV. Ample seating areas are provided and staff organizes karaoke and dance parties in the evenings.
The kids' area (3 to 6) is bright and has plenty of art supplies, an abundance of toys like LEGO bricks, cozy window seating and TVs. Parents must sign kids through age 12 in and out of the fun.
Kid-Pool on Deck 9 and Sports-Fun on Deck 11
The Lido Pool sits on the first floor of a two-story pool space domed by a retractable glass roof that closes during inclement weather. A huge screen towers over one side of the pool showing movies in the evening (although the flicks aren't necessarily kid-appropriate). Three hot tubs bubble away in perfect view of the movie.
Active families can practically live on Deck 11 thanks to the basketball and soccer tournaments that happen during the day. Two shuffleboard courts with equipment are on-hand and two Ping-Pong tables flank the Lido Deck Pool. Great to know: a jogging track is also on Deck 11.
Family Cabins on Deck 1
Brand new to the Holland America Line are Family Ocean View Staterooms on the Koningsdam -- all on Deck 1 -- that sleep up to five guests. All 32 family cabins have an ocean view (none with a balcony so parents don't have to worry about tiny-kid safety) offering 222 to 231 square feet.
To accommodate five guests: two lower beds convert into a queen, one pullout sofa sleeps two, and one upper bunk sleeps one. The Family Stateroom also boasts two bathroom spaces: one with a bathtub/shower, sink and toilet; and the second with a shower and sink. Searching for the hair dryer? You'll find it in one of the desk's drawers.
Kid-Dining on the Koningsdam
The Lido Market on Deck 9 was our family's favorite choice for dining, but there's nothing "market" about it. It's more like a high-end buffet with awesome food and spectacular views. The food choices are extensive, and lunch and dinner include Italian, Asian, vegetarian choices, beautiful desserts and a lot more. Breakfasts are fabulous with waffles, pancakes, meats, juices, cereals - even over-21 drinks if you're up for a mimosa (alcohol is extra).
For between meals and evening snacks, kids can practically live at the New York Pizza & Deli on Deck 10 that serves sizeable one-person, made-to-order pizzas, sandwiches, salads, desserts and non-alcoholic drinks. Guests can eat poolside or take pizza boxes back to the cabin.
Gelato on Deck 9 is a don't-miss. The Holland America Line sends the gelato staff to Italy to learn how to properly create gelato. (We love them for it.) The gelato items cost, but each is inexpensively priced.
But if your kids are true foodies, your family will prefer eating in the Main Dining Room or at one of the specialty restaurants.
The gorgeous, bright Main Dining Room (Deck 2 and 3) is blanketed in red and white glass balls dangling from the ceiling. We had dinner in the MDR on semi-formal night (which, for boys, means short sleeve polo shirts; girls in nice sun dresses). Plan to receive impeccable table service at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This meal isn't a quick in-and-out, but absolutely worth your time.
The Culinary Arts Center (Deck 2) hosts cooking demonstrations and cocktail classes aided by the large screens above the chefs (charges vary depending on the demo). If you'd prefer a meal over lessons, dinner is every evening at the Culinary Arts Center at 7 p.m. Within the center is also an impressive greenhouse that grows produce.
Our favorite Koningsdam specialty restaurants include the Tamarind (Deck 10), serving Asian-inspired creations and the Sel De Mer (Deck 2), serving seafood and more (the crusty French bread and cheese souffl? is to die for). The Culinary Arts Center and specialty restaurants all come with their own charges.
Half Moon Cay - HAL's Private Island
Half Moon Cay is a 2,400-acre island surrounded in turquoise waters that the Koningsdam visits if you're sailing to the Caribbean. HAL offers a seemingly endless menu of Journeys Ashore on Half Moon Cay including: Horseback Riding on Land & Sea, Swim & Snorkel, Eco Lagoon Kayak Adventure, Glass Bottom Boat tour and a whole lot more.
My sons and I signed up for riding horses in the surf. And then I realized my mistake. In the middle of the Caribbean, in the middle of the day, you'll find hot, cranky kids -- especially if they're not submerged in water. If I had to do Half Moon Cay again on-the-cheap, I'd bring a book and rent a float or two for the day and bob around in the beautiful waters, enjoying the catered lunch that magically appears.
If I had bucks, I'd bring a book and rent a private cabana that takes up to four guests and delivers beach-luxury like air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a mini-fridge, lounge chairs, floating mats and snorkel gear, drinks, snack platters, and you get the comfort-picture.
For Mom and Dad
Mom and dad will love the Sea View Pool for adults-only and the elaborate fitness facilities both on Deck 9. Along with elaborate weight equipment and cardio machines, the fitness center offers fee-based classes including Pathway to Yoga, Indoor Cycling (in a dedicated spin room looking out to sea), TRX, Pure Form Pilates, and Trilo3y (combining three components of fitness).
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon also on Deck 9 includes a lavish spa with 19 treatment rooms, and a small salon. The spa's Thermal Suite has twelve heated reclining chairs, a steam room, sauna and elegant showers with a cold water bucket splash, plus a spacious hydro pool (architecturally cool to see and use.) If you don't want a spa treatment, you can still use the Thermal Suite and all that it includes. Just inquire about Thermal Suite day-pass prices when you first board or online.
Spa treatments fill fast so book your treatment early. The spa is at its most quiet in the mornings and on port days; sea days deliver a packed spa. Teens (age 16 and up) can join parents in working out in the fitness center, taking fitness classes and jogging (for all ages) on the jogging path on Deck 11.
Parents - and older kids, too - will love the Explorations Caf?/Small Library on Deck 12 that serves an incredible view along with specialty coffee, fancy treats and a small reading library. The caf? is also home to computers where you can hop online (for a fee).
We were slated for a later debarkation time at 10 am. We planned to wake up at 7 a.m., eat breakfast in the Lido Market, and then hang out in our cabin until time came to debark.
Wrong. After breakfast we went back to the cabin, as planned. Staff knocked several times on our cabin door for this reason or that (one person even walked into the cabin after the briefest of knocks). We took the hint and left our cabin with a lot of time to spare. We headed for the debarkation space (Deck 2 and 3), sat on the floor - while other guests lined the hallways - and waited for about two hours. The process was slow and annoying.
We've sailed on ships with coin laundry and without - and this mom will take the ship with coin laundry every time. The Koningsdam doesn't have coin machines, but does provide laundry services. For example, a bag of miscellaneous clothing will run you about $30 for the staff to clean.
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ms Koningsdam for Families: Hits & Misses
Written by Wendy Irvine