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CRUISE VIEWS

Volendam Targets Younger Market

March 05, 2000|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

After years of being considered primarily a cruise line for seniors, Holland America is aiming at a younger, more active audience with the new 63,000-ton, 1,440-passenger Volendam, which debuted in November in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The ship brings the line's total beds to 11,746, all of which are on ships with names ending in -dam, which means "dike" in Dutch.

The Volendam, the first of a new class of ships carrying 1,440 passengers, is similar to the four 1,266-passenger vessels already in service. (Another 1,440-passenger ship, Zaandam, is due to arrive this month.)

One of the most traditional of all cruise lines, 127-year-old Holland America Line was established as an immigrant carrier between the Netherlands and the United States. From 1901 to 1914 it shuttled 700,000 people across the Atlantic at a steerage fare of $20 apiece.

In 1971, HAL switched from crossings to cruise vacations, and after the line's acquisition in 1989 by industry giant Carnival Corp., business soared.

Although the fleetwide average age for a Holland America passenger still hovers at 59, on seven-day Caribbean sailings the average has dropped to 50. Even on Alaska cruises, long tagged as sailings for seniors, the average age is down into the mid-50s, says David A. Giersdorf, senior vice president of marketing and sales.

Tennis great Chris Evert, flanked by flats of tulips, served as godmother at the christening. Inaugural passengers were treated to the Barry Manilow musical "Copacabana" and an evening of comedy with Rita Rudner. Late-night comedy shows are also on tap along with more casual-dress buffet dinners as an alternative to the formal dining room.

Even more telling, perhaps, of the modernizing of the line was Holland America's first Internet center, allowing passengers to check e-mail and surf the Web while ensconced in an area that was originally designated as a jigsaw puzzle corner.

Designer Frans Dingemans used a predominant theme of flowers in a decor of understated elegance, with a sumptuous collection of antiques, leather- or tapestry-covered furniture, parquet floors and a palette of rich reds, blues and golds.

The most expensive accommodation on board is the 1,126-square-foot penthouse suite with its Louis XVI embellishments and original artworks; prices begin at $462 a day per person, double occupancy, on 10-day Caribbean sailings with early booking discounts. Occupants can entertain guests at dinner at a table that seats eight; the suite also includes a butler pantry and guest bath, a huge living room, large private balcony, separate bedroom, walk-in closet, bath with marble-faced hot tub and separate stall shower.

Only slightly less lavish are the 28 suites, starting at $314 a day per person, double occupancy. They measure 563 square feet, including balcony, and have twin beds that can convert to queen size, a large sofa and two chairs, glass coffee table, VCR and TV, dry bar with marble counter, refrigerator and mini-bar, a dressing room with marble counter and sink, and a bathroom with Jacuzzi tub.

Perks for suite passengers include priority reservations for alternative dining in the elegant Marco Polo Italian restaurant, as well as terry robes, appetizers in the cabin at cocktail time, afternoon tea in the cabin, same-day valet service, complimentary cleaning, pressing and laundry, and disembarkation at leisure.

All cabins have twin beds that convert to queen size, double closets with full-length mirrors, telephone with voice mail and wake-up service, safe, hair dryer and color TV with remote control.

Food and service in the magnificent two-deck Rotterdam dining room met the line's traditional standards, but buffet setups on the early sailings were disappointing, with fewer cooked-to-order options than we remembered.

Fares begin at $1,711 with early booking discounts for a 10-day Caribbean cruise this year. Two alternating itineraries are offered. A Wayfarer voyage calls in Fort-de-France, Martinique; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; Roseau, Dominica; St. John and St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private beach island in the Bahamas. A Seafarer program visits St. John's, Antigua; Castries and Soufriere, St. Lucia; Pointe-a-Pitre and Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe; St. John and St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas.

The ship will cruise Alaska during the summer, returning to the Caribbean in October.

For a color brochure, ask a travel agent, call (800) 426-0327 or visit http://www.hollandamerica .com on the Internet.

Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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