Although I love live music I'm not really one for shows. The big entertainment you see on the largest cruise ships just doesn't appeal. I'd much rather relax in a more intimate venue, and if this has a band or pianist then all the better. I'm not sure if its Butlins' 'Red Coat' style entertainment that has put me off, or maybe it's just my own snobbery about the big ship style of cruising, but it would never be something I'd look for on a holiday.
So I didn't quite know what to expect when I visited the 2,650 guest Koningsdam, which launched in April this year. Ship visits usually take a similar format, a short presentation followed by a tour of the ship, visiting a few different grades of stateroom, the restaurants, and the other public areas. Holland America Line, however, offered a sampler of the live entertainment they are so proud of, and thank goodness they did as it completely confounded my expectations.
The first venue we experienced was the Lincoln Centre Stage, more of a lounge than a show stage, where we were treated to a cocktail and joined by a string quartet and pianist. The Lincoln Centre is the world's leading centre for the performing arts, and here their outstanding musicians perform chamber music each evening, as well as afternoon recitals. Watching such talented musicians perform up close is an absolute treat, and I couldn't help but be impressed by the skill of the group.
Then followed Billboard Onboard. Much like the Lincoln Centre, Billboard is better known in the US and is described as the leading global destination for charts, news, trends and innovation in music. This translates on board to a wonderful lounge where chart-topping hits are played by live musicians, including the highly entertaining duelling pianos. Two performers mixing some great music with a touch of audience participation (there are seats right next to the pianos for those who want, or you can sit a little further away it that makes you more comfortable!) and their own great chemistry to create a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Last but not least was B.B. King's All-Star Band, a real highlight for me. We were treated to a sample from the 8-piece band, who perform nightly in the relaxed and comfortable Queen's Lounge. Bringing American soul to sea, this is the place to hear the best of Memphis whilst enjoying specialty cocktails like 'Lucille' and 'Rock Me Baby'.
The standard across all three stages was what really impressed me. These musicians really are fantastic and I couldn't help being completely uplifted by their music. I could easily see how being able to watch and listen to this as and when you liked could make a wonderfully entertaining evening, and make a holiday a little more special.
Then it was on to the rest of the ship, which was just as impressive. Excellent restaurants cater to every taste: the sophisticated Tamarind offers Asian delights, Canaletto has an excellent menu of authentic Italian dishes next to an impressive wine cellar, and Sel de Mer is a superb seafood brasserie. Add to this the excellent main dining room and you really are spoilt for choice.
Holland America Line have innovated in other areas of the ship as well. A culinary arts centre offers cooking demonstrations and a micro garden with the most amazing collection of flavoured cress. Blend is an exciting addition, in collaboration with Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington state's oldest and most acclaimed winery. It offers 10 guests the opportunity to create their own wine, assisted by the ship's wine expert.
The ship is also the most family friendly I've seen. The huge teen club and children's centre provide younger guests with a great place to hang out with others of a similar age, and are much more than an afterthought that's tucked away in some unused area. There are also two pools and The Retreat, an adults only area on deck where cabanas can be reserved, so there really is something for everyone, catering to the various demands of a family group.
With so many places to relax and while away your time, the fact that the ship is a little larger then we are used to here at Mundy really doesn't come across when you're on board. Instead I felt that this was an excellent balance, large enough to offer an excellent choice of facilities yet not so large as to feel overwhelming. A fantastic achievement from Holland America Line.
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