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Koningsdam

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Koningsdam is the first new Holland America Line ship in eight years. "Koning" means "king" in Dutch, and the ship is aptly named: It's the biggest, most technologically advanced and most luxurious Holland America Line ship ever built. Koningsdam heralds both a new class (Pinnacle) and a new era for HAL.

The ship feels luxurious, with thick carpets, leather chairs and lots of expensive artwork adorning the walls and in the public spaces. The ship is music-themed throughout, and you'll spot prints, paintings and sculptures of pop stars, musicians and instruments almost everywhere you turn. You may also notice a few familiar design traits, if you have travelled with Celebrity (they share the same designer, Adam D. Tihany) -- not least in the stunning Dining Room, with a soaring wine tower as its centrepiece.

Koningsdam is aimed squarely at an "upper premium" clientele: discerning, wealthy and happy to pay for the things they enjoy in life, such as a good bottle of wine or a favourite whiskey. Cabins and public areas feel like a high-end hotel, the entertainment is slick and polished and the food is some of the finest we've tasted onboard a cruise ship.

The ship takes some of the best features from the rest of the fleet -- such as the Culinary Arts Center, music tie-ups, exclusive adults-only area and outstanding speciality restaurants -- and enhances them, by making them bigger, such as the double-deck lido, or adding more options, such as adding a dinner component to the Culinary Arts Center or creating Lincoln Center and Billboard Onboard music venues to join the B.B. King Blues Club.

But significantly, Koningsdam also sees the debut of a number of new features. These include a French-style brasserie; a double-deck, glass-roofed Lido Deck, where evening movies are screened; a huge theatre with a giant surround screen; a partnership with a venerable Washington State winery; and the line's first family cabins and solo cabins, all of which fit seamlessly into the HAL brand.

Somehow the designers have pulled off a remarkable feat, creating a ship that's different from the line's older vessels but still feels familiar to past passengers. With this mix, Holland America fans will certainly be pleased with the new ship, while a new generation of cruisers -- who expect more choice in dining, variety in entertainment and a modern look, feel and atmosphere -- have plenty of reasons to take a chance on Koningsdam.

Daytime: The dress is resort casual during the day.

Evening: Holland America passengers like to dress up, certainly on formal nights, and there are two of those per seven-night cruise. A tux and a long gown are not obligatory, but you certainly would not be out of place with them. A jacket and tie and a cocktail dress or nice pantsuit would be regarded as the minimum. Outside of these times, men are requested to wear shirts and slacks for dinner, and for women, a dress or an elegant skirt with blouse -- though this is not always enforced.

Not permitted: Swimsuits and other pool wear, men's tank tops, shorts and distressed jeans are not allowed in any of the restaurants during the evening hours.

Theatre

Koningsdam heralds a step-change in terms of technology for Holland America, with the debut of a 270-degree wraparound screen in The World Stage, the main theatre found on decks 1 and 2. The shows are a mix of music, dancing and movies, but not all utilize the technology to its fullest, especially if there are guest performers. The screen does come into its own, however, with the onboard performers, in shows such as "OneWorld," "Musicology" and the screening of the BBC's "The Frozen Planet," which is accompanied by a specially composed score. Expect magic shows, tribute bands, and music and dance revues.

During the day, the venue is used for talks on forthcoming destinations.

Daily Fun

One of Koningsdam's exciting new venues is Blend (Deck 3), in partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington State, where Holland America is headquartered. It's situated on Deck 2, on the way to the main dining room and is completely open -- both good moves by HAL as everyone on their way to eat can take a good look at passengers pouring, sniffing, swirling and blending. The idea is to take five red wines, taste them, decide which ones you like (or don't), and mix them to make your favorite blend. You even get to make up a name and design your own label, and take the bottle to dinner afterward. It's not a bad price -- $79 per person -- considering each of the five wines retails at up to $80.

A HAL mainstay is cooking demos and cocktail classes at the Culinary Arts Center (which turns into a dinner venue at night, see Dining). You can see the ship's top chefs whip up mouthwatering dishes, and occasionally catch a visiting star chef from the line's Culinary Arts Council. Charges vary by demo; pizza-cooking classes cost $29, for example.

You'll also find beer, martini and wine tastings around the ship, with prices starting at $15.

Trivia takes place most days up in the Crow's Nest, or -- in an inspiring link-up -- in the Queen's Lounge using footage from BBC Earth to supplement the questions. This is brand new to Koningsdam, but will be rolled out to other ships.

Enrichment activities are scheduled throughout the day and might include a digital workshop and tips and tricks for using your cellphone at sea.

Bridge games are held on Deck 1 in one of the board/card rooms.

There are also scavenger hunts, Ping-Pong tournaments, soccer shootouts, basketball tournaments, dance classes, a behind the scenes galley tour and poolside "name that tune" competitions.

At Night

Almost everywhere you go at night, you'll hear music. The heart of the action is on Deck 2, along Music Walk, a cluster of three different music venues (Queen's Lounge, Billboard Onboard and Lincoln Center Stage).

The B.B. King's All Stars are the resident band at the Queen's Lounge, and they play three times a night, every night, in a show called B.B. King's Blues Club. They are an outstanding band, and play a selection of classic blues numbers, as well as more popular favourites. The only aspect of the "Club" that struck us as a missed opportunity is the fact that this is not a club -- it's an open lounge that could be on any ship. The only nods to the original club are a recreation of the famous neon sign and a selection of cocktails "inspired by the Club."

Karaoke, when it's on, takes place in the Queen's Lounge, ahead of the B.B. King Blues Club performances. Dance classes also take place in here.

Billboard Onboard is a popular venue, with two grand pianos and two fine pianists playing a selection of hits from the official Billboard charts. You might be tempted to describe the pianos as "dueling," but they're not; they play in unison, complementing each other. The resident pianists are competent, but not exceptional, and their voices struggle to reach notes. It's part audience participation, depending on the night, and requests are encouraged.

You will find exquisite recitals of classical music in Lincoln Center Stage. The stage is set up, with chairs in front, but again it is not a room, but a space. Music here competes with background noise from Explorer's Bar, the Casino Bar (and casino above), the pianos opposite in Billboard Onboard and the sounds of through-traffic. However, just like with the B.B. King's Blues Band, the quality of the musicians is world class.

Though each individual venue offers fabulous music, the much-heralded Music Walk doesn't really work as a concept. The three venues are all situated close together, but there's no obvious link made between them. While the whole ship is full of music-related decor, this area is not. The open-plan venues provide no sense of atmosphere, and the noise from one venue competes with the others, not to mention the nearby bars and casinos.

Also note, the Music Walk does get crowded in the corridors, as they lead to the World Stage, but there is plenty of seating in each venue, so you'll never have to stand to watch a performance.

If you're looking for entertainment elsewhere on the ship, a wonderful pianist plays in the Ocean Bar most nights. The Lido Deck Pool screens movies most nights.

The casino on Deck 3 is relatively small for a large ship, and includes a small bar. Smoking is permitted here, but it doesn't pervade the rest of the ship, and on some nights, smoking is not allowed at all. The casino has a selection of slot machines and gaming tables, as well as regular tournaments such as Texas Hold 'em and slots.


Koningsdam Bars and Lounges

Holland America is not necessarily known for its "party" atmosphere, but around the Deck 2 Music Walk area, you'll find plenty to watch and places to dance, drink and listen to music until the early hours.

Notes (Deck 2): This whiskey-tasting bar, marooned between the Explorer's Bar and B.B. King's Blues Club, has 129 different whiskeys on offer and a very knowledgeable whiskey "sommelier" that will suggest a blend that might suit you. There are also various herbs and spices, used to enhance your smell, as well as some rarities, including bottles for $6,000, should you feel so inclined.

Explorer's Bar (Deck 2): The bar behind the Lincoln Center Stage is a pleasant spot to watch the recitals if you can't get a seat near the stage.

Ocean Bar (Deck 2): In the atrium, on the way to the restaurants, this quiet bar hides away from all the activity on the Music Walk. It's a good spot for an after-dinner drink.

Casino Bar (Deck 3): This small bar competes with the noise of the slot machines and smoke from the casino.

Sea View Bar (Deck 9): This aft bar services the Sea View Pool. There is outside seating on this level, as well as one deck above, overlooking the pool. The designated outside smoking area is located to the right side of the bar.

Lido Bar (Deck 9): The Lido Bar services the Lido Pool area. There are plenty of chairs and tables, and efficient waiter service.

Panorama Bar (Deck 10): Probably our favourite bar for a nightcap, this bar is where the musicians and performers also come to wind down. It's open until 1 a.m. and serves a range of beers, wines and cocktails. It overlooks the Lido Deck and is a good spot to watch the outdoor film.

Sun Bar (Deck 11): This bar services the Sun Deck and has possibly the best views on the ship (with the exception of the Crow's Nest Bar), as it overlooks the wake. It's great for a sundowner at sail-away.

Crow's Nest (Deck 12): The Crow's Nest has the best views of all the onboard bars, as it's situated right at the top and the front of the ship, with windows all around.


Koningsdam Outside Recreation

Pools

There are just two pools: the main Lido Deck Pool on Deck 9 midship and the Sea View Pool on the same deck, aft. The Lido pool area sports a new design; it's a stunning double-deck space, which is flanked by bars and eateries and has a retractable roof that can be closed during inclement weather. On the lower deck, loungers and chairs and tables flank the pool; on the upper deck are Miami-style sofas and beds, divided by white drapes. There are two hot tubs.

The open-air cinema (also new to Koningsdam) on the Lido Deck works really well. Grab some popcorn or nachos from the Deli, find a blanket, select a lounger and you're all set.

Children must be potty trained to use the pool, and there are no dedicated kids' pool or splash facilities.

The aft pool or Sea View Pool is adults-only in theory, though not in practice, and has lovely views of the back of the ship. It also has two hot tubs.

Recreation

There is a large Sports Deck on Deck 11, which has basketball and soccer tournaments throughout the day. Deck quoits and shuffleboard can be found either side. Two Ping-Pong tables are on either side of the Lido Deck Pool. There's a promenade for walking on Deck 3.

Sun Decks

You'll find acres of space on the Sun Deck on Deck 11, with plenty of loungers spaced about. There are hot tubs or splash pools up there. You won't find bar service on this deck -- except at the Sun Deck Bar, aft -- and in some areas you are competing with the funnel noise.

Koningsdam sees the debut of The Retreat (Deck 12), where for a fee you get to spend the day in a curtained-off deck area, where loungers are guaranteed and you can enjoy drinks, snacks, a glass of sparkling wine and a healthy breakfast and lunch. The Retreat can be booked on a daily basis ($45 on a port day or $75 on a sea day) or a weekly basis ($299), 10 days ($399) or 15 days ($499).


Koningsdam Services

The card rooms are all on Deck 1 and can be booked for meetings, for example, if you are travelling with a group. Bridge takes place here every day.

The shops are on decks 3 and 4 and include a number of high-end retail outlets, selling everything from watches to handbags and jewellery, as well as duty-free shops selling cigarettes, perfume and alcohol, as well as HAL-branded goods. The onboard art gallery is among the shops.

Journeys Ashore, the shore excursions desk, is on Deck 1; Guest Services is on Deck 3, next to the future cruises sales desk. The photo gallery is on Deck 3, on the way to the dining room.

Holland America regulars who love the libraries on the rest of the fleet will be a bit disappointed to find there is no library on Koningsdam. All you will find are newspapers and large reference books in Explorations Cafe on Deck 12. This is also where you'll find a few computers where you can get online.

There is WiFi throughout the ship, but HAL has not utilized the new Internet technologies available, so as well as being pricey, the connection struggles with sites that require a lot of bandwidth. (Rates are 75 cents per minute; packages start at $55 for 100 minutes and go up to $250 for 1,000 minutes.)

There is no self-service laundry. A bag of mixed garments will cost you $30 to get cleaned by ship staff.

Spa

The Greenhouse Spa & Salon, including the fitness centre, is located just off the Lido Pool Deck, and is a huge space that takes up all the front of the ship on Deck 9 and a large chunk of it on Deck 10. Its centrepiece is the thermal suite, which is arguably one of the best we've seen on a cruise ship. It costs $40 a day to get access, or you can purchase a cruise-long pass, but for that you get the following: access to the relaxation room, the ceramic lounge with heated loungers, a sauna, an infrared sauna, a steam room, an aromatherapy room, a horizontal shower (you lie on your back instead of standing up), a rain shower and a huge hydrotherapy pool, complete with jets and sprays. The steam room, sauna and lounges are all outside facing and have wonderful views.

There are 19 rooms (including two couples' rooms) offering a wide range of treatments using Elemis products. These include facials, massages and reflexology. Facials and massages start at $145 for 50 minutes. Couples massages start at $249 for 50 minutes. Medi-spa treatments include Botox, cellulite reduction programs and acupuncture treatments. The adjoining salon offers a full range of hair and beauty treatments including manis and pedis and teeth whitening, as well as men's grooming.

There are always offers on -- such as 10, 20 and 30 percent off if you book three treatments -- and various demos around the pool, as well as seminars in the meeting rooms on Deck 1.

Fitness

The impressive fitness centre takes up all the front of deck 9 and is accessed through the spa. The main room is huge and includes bikes, rowing machines, treadmills, ellipticals and weight machines, all with wonderful views out the front of the ship. The facility also includes a Ryde Indoor Cycling room and TRX Suspension Training room.

A variety of classes including Pilates, spinning and yoga are all offered for a fee. Yoga is $12 for 45 minutes; TRX classes are $20 per person, per hour. You can also hire a personal trainer at a cost of $85 an hour.

The fitness centre also offers seminars and free sessions such as walking a mile and morning (and evening) stretch.

The jogging track is on Deck 11 as are a number of pieces of outdoor exercise equipment.

Free Dining

Holland America has a long-standing Culinary Council drawn from leading chefs worldwide, who advise on the food served on the ships. On Gala Nights, a number of their dishes might be showcased. Their choices inform the quality of cuisine onboard, but as with every large ship, there will always be limitations on what you can achieve in terms of quality when you are feeding large numbers of people. Food on this ship is generally of a high standard in all the outlets, free or fee.

The Dining Room (Decks 2 and 3): This is a beautifully designed, double-deck room with a stunning wine tower as the centerpiece, a sweeping staircase, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out the back of the ship and a vast, two-deck-high sculpture that resembles the rib cage of a whale. There is a wide selection of different table sizes from two to eight. The chairs are leather, in a stylish soft taupe color.

Ceilings are studded with strings of red and white lighting, which coil and interlace high above diners. It's designed to wow, and it does. The food, though of a high standard, lacks a certain refinement and lightness, which is often the case in large dining rooms. There's plenty of choice, and all the numerous food intolerances are catered for, but it doesn't zing, like it does in the specialty restaurants onboard.

There are two set dining times at 5:15 p.m. and at 9.30 p.m. (though the dining times are subject to change based on itinerary). Or you can opt for As You Wish dining, the open-seating choice. With this plan, you can make dinner reservations daily during a cruise up to 4 p.m. or simply walk up anytime during dining hours and hope you don't have to wait in line too long. Avoid the rushes straight after shows

There are a number of different menu variations, which HAL changes out on a regular basis. On the cruise we were on appetizers might include Caesar salad, antipasti, a selection of soups, including some nods to the line's Dutch heritage such as Dutch pea soup. The French onion soup had a rich, deep flavour; the Caesar consisted of a handful of leaves and a few Parmesan shavings ("stingy" was the word used to describe it). The devilled eggs had a bit of a kick, and the antipasti delivered, but in a somewhat underwhelming way.

There is a good selection of entrees -- seven in total, which will include a fish, steak and even game birds. Three HAL Signature dishes are always on the menu: New York strip loin, grilled salmon and broiled chicken. Our party tried a selection: "angry striped bass" with garlicky clams and mussels promised much but was a little bland, despite the interesting ingredients; the veal cordon bleu was slightly stodgy. However, the grilled salmon was exceptionally tasty, if just slightly on the dry side.

Other menu items include: seared tuna, oysters Rockefeller, seafood chowder and chicken noodle soup to start; prime rib, chicken breast and Asian vegetable noodles as entrees. On certain sailings (such as our one), the chef will go to a local market to source produce -- we enjoyed Norwegian salmon, caught that morning.

The desserts are plentiful and delicious and might include chocolate avalanche cake, cherry pavlova and treacle sponge pudding as well as cheese and fruit and ice cream, followed by coffee. Service is attentive and efficient. The wine sommelier is particularly helpful and knowledgeable.

Each dish has a symbol indicating whether it is vegetarian, responsibly sourced or a creation of the Culinary Council. Tell the waiter if you have dietary requirements or intolerances.

The main dining room is open for breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and dinner (5:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.).

Grand Dutch Cafe (Deck 3): The food is free here; the speciality coffees and the Heineken beer on tap are not, nor are some of the sweet Dutch treats. This cafe specializes in Dutch dishes, which might sound (and possibly taste) a little strange to non-Dutch palates. You'll find pickled herring, a type of french fry (friets) in mayo and a veal ragout sandwich, plus plenty of pancake variations. But it's a popular spot all day, with seats looking out toward the atrium and against the windows looking out to sea. Open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lido Market (Deck 9): Koningsdam features a marketplace-style venue, where passengers can select from the buffet or choose made-to-order options, from five themed stations: Breadboard (freshly baked bread, pastries and signature sandwiches); Wild Harvest (salads, fruits and other healthy bites); Homestead (comfort foods such as scrambled eggs and herb-roasted chicken); Distant Lands (dishes from around the world, including those of regions visited by the ship); and Sweet Spot (desserts).

The food is very good for a main buffet, and the variety on offer -- from all these regions of the world -- extraordinary.

It's a large venue, with lots of seating and plenty of light, with good traffic flow. Often the buffets on cruise ships get awfully crowded at peak times, but we did not notice that here; it was always possible to get a table. The Lido Market segues into the Lido Pool area midship, and to the aft pool deck, so there is always the option of outside seating.

Two aspects really impressed us in terms of health and cleanliness. The main one is that no passenger can help themselves to food. The stations are covered in glass, and you always must ask to be served whatever it might be, even a salad or toast. This could lead to potential long lines, but we didn't experience any. The second is the hand-washing stations positioned at each entrance to the Lido Market. Instead of sinks, they are two holes in which you put your hands and they are given a full cycle of soap and water.

Open from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Dive In (Deck 9): Situated just outside the Lido Market, beside the pool, this grill station serves burgers, fries and hot dogs. Open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

New York Deli & Pizza (Deck 10): Another only-on-Koningsdam venue, New York Deli & Pizza, which overlooks the Lido Pool, is open throughout the day. It serves a selection of cereals, juices, pastries, bagels and coffee and tea at breakfast. At lunch, you can build your own pizza or order from a selection on the menu. It also serves salads and big New York-style sandwiches (e.g. Reuben Rye, Pastrami, New Jersey Club Decker). In the evening you can get a selection of snacks, such as popcorn, nachos and potato chips, for movie nights.

Open for breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.), lunch and dinner (11:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.) and for snacks in the evening (9 p.m. to 1 a.m.).

Explorations Cafe (Deck 12): Situated in a great spot high atop the ship, within the Crow's Nest lounge, Explorations Cafe has free food such as sandwiches and pastries, but charges for coffee and tea. It's a lovely spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat and take in the view, or read the newspapers and browse online.

Room Service: 24/7 in-cabin dining is complimentary with a few exceptions. The following items from speciality restaurants have a delivery charge: Tamarind Bento Boxes, $9.95 per item; Dive In Burgers, $4.95 per item; and Pinnacle Grill, $15 for steak and $20 for lobster.

Fee Dining

Koningsdam features a number of new-to-the-line dining venues while maintaining fleetwide favourites such as the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto. The Culinary Arts Center, a showroom for food demos on most Holland America ships, has become a dining venue on this one.

The majority of the speciality restaurants are on Deck 2, clustered together on the way to the main dining room. The exception is Tamarind, which has a stunning spot overlooking the sea right at the back of the ship, and Canaletto, which is an adjunct to the Lido Market on Deck 9.

Overall, the quality of the fee dining is very high, and in some cases outstanding. The restaurants are an extremely good value, considering the quality of the cuisine, compared to the prices being charged on many other lines. Also, HAL has resisted going down the route many other cruise lines are going by making speciality restaurants on Koningsdam a la carte -- all bar one charge a flat cover.

Reservations are always recommended in the speciality restaurants, but especially in the smaller ones such as Sel de Mer.

There are in addition various Dining Packages on offer, which give good savings. These start at $44 and include dinner at Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto; for $65 you also get to eat at Tamarind; and for $119 you can try out all the speciality restaurants.

Sel de Mer (Deck 2); a la carte pricing: Translating to "salt of the sea," this for-fee restaurant serves up French seafood in a traditional brasserie setting, in which fresh fish and shellfish are brought to your table so you can choose. Chefs also will bring back locally caught fish from port and feature them as specials.

The whole French brasserie feel starts with a blackboard outside with the catch of the day chalked on; inside, one wall is made up of a single impressionist painting and ceramics line the walls. A trolley in the centre of the room showcases the catch of the day and menus come as you'd expect in France: a single sheet listing the appetizers, entrees and the specials; while on the other side of the page you have a wine list featuring French wines. The venue is not trying to replicate some mom-and-pop brasserie in a sleepy French fishing town -- it's got more of an air of Parisian chic.

And Sel de Mer is not cheap. Appetizers, which might include crab salad, crudo of fresh fish (like a ceviche or sashimi dish) and baked escargots, start at $6 for the whitebait and rise to $14 for the pan-seared foie gras. We opted for the beef Pot-au-feu, which is a beef soup, piping hot, rich and tasty, and served on a wooden board in a metal pot. Or you can just dive in and share a traditional fruits de mer for $49, which includes lobster, oysters, crab, etc.

Entrees are mainly seafood with a selection including salt-crust baked branzino ($26), bouillabaisse Marseillaise ($19), moules frites ($16) or a seafood platter ($24). There's even a Maine lobster ($32). The market catch is served how you like it, and presented to you at the table ahead of cooking. We checked: The chef had gone out that morning to choose from the local market -- which is rare on a ship this size. And when it arrived, there was no doubt that it had been swimming in the Mediterranean a few hours earlier -- not frozen and shipped in from Chile. Desserts include apple tarte tatin, profiteroles or a chocolate pot. There are also coffees and petits fours.

The whole meal with wine would set you back somewhere north of $100, so this is not a cheap option.

Open for dinner: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Dinner at the Culinary Arts Center (Deck 2); $20/$39 (including unlimited wine): Holland America Line's show kitchen transforms into a dining venue at night for the first time on Koningsdam. The room is large and well lit with an open kitchen as its centerpiece, and a combination of tables for two and large tables for groups. You're invited to get up and talk to your fellow diners, which makes for a convivial atmosphere.

It's a farm-to-table concept, with the emphasis on vegetarian and organic dishes, prepared simply, though portion sizes might be a tad too small for some. The line has a partnership with herb specialist Koppert Cress, and grows cress in fridge-like incubators onboard the ship; it appears in most dishes.

The menu has just five dishes (changed every seven days), two appetizers which are both served, and a choice of three mains -- a fish, a meat or a veggie option -- plus a single dessert and a cheese plate. The paucity of choice might put some people off; however, the unlimited wine option might appeal.

The meal is a bit of a show, beginning with an intro from the head chef, who then talks you through the concept and each dish. It's an open kitchen, and semi-interactive in that you are invited to come up and watch the chefs prepare, create and plate, though you can't actually participate in the cooking. Our menu consisted of an amuse-bouche sorbet, followed by a small salad and then a celery and kale risotto, which was a bit gloopy for our tastes.

The mains consisted of rib-eye steak, sea bass or a quinoa-based dish. The steak was delicious, perfectly cooked, and melted in your mouth. A choice of cheese or desserts, plus various teas and petits fours served lollipop-style on sticks, rounded off the meal.

For the fee, it's good value, especially if you opt for the unlimited wine option (two excellent choices from the Snoqualmie Winery).

The Culinary Arts Center serves dinner at just one 7 p.m. seating.

Pinnacle Grill (Deck 2); $35: A mainstay of Holland America's fleet, this restaurant is all about perfectly cooked, excellent quality meats -- and, wow, does it deliver. Set in the clutch of speciality restaurants on Deck 2 -- though we think this could be much better situated high up on the ship -- the restaurant resembles a good steakhouse with rich, plush decor and wine bottles lining one wall, floor to ceiling.

The meal begins with an amuse-bouche, which in keeping with the style of the place is not a sorbet but an escargot soup, which is an acquired taste. There are nine starters, including classics such as lobster bisque, steak tartare, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad, as well as some interesting ones such as caviar ($45 supplement) and Dungeness crab cakes.

There is a heavy emphasis on meats for the entrees; however, there are two vegetarian options. Steaks are the Pinnacle Grill's speciality, and if you are going to eat steak onboard it ought to be here. There are two choices of filet mignon, a New York strip, rib eye and a 23 oz. porterhouse, if you are feeling peckish. But the star attraction is Holland America President Orlando Ashford's Cut -- a 36 oz. rib eye for a $59 supplement. We divided this up among the table.

We opted for the New York strip steak, and it was possibly the best we have eaten on a ship -- rich, tender, succulent -- outstanding. It certainly gave the President's Cut a run for its money.

If you don't feel like steak there are other meat dishes: pork chop, lamb chops and an interesting sounding Jidori chicken with "forbidden rice." There is also a wide selection of seafood, including salmon, Alaskan king crab legs, halibut and a seafood mix. You can also opt to pair your steak with a lobster tail for a $20 supplement.

There is a good selection of sides, including creamed spinach and shoestring fries with truffle aioli.

Desserts include "Not-So-Classic Baked Alaska" (which includes Ben & Jerry's ice cream) and Grand Marnier and raspberry cheesecake, as well as a cheeseboard and a selection of port and dessert wines.

A dinner here is a truly indulgent and memorable experience, at a very good price.

The Pinnacle Grill also plays host to the occasional pop-up restaurant, most notably Le Cirque and Jonnie Boer's three-Michelin-starred De Librije, which offers a completely different menu at a much steeper price. Le Cirque is $49 per person, and De Librije is $69 per person including wine tasting (four 2 oz. pours). Passengers may also purchase a wine pairing (four 5 oz. pours) for an additional $20 per person.

Open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Canaletto (Deck 9); $15: A popular speciality dining venue fleetwide, Canaletto offers an Italian sharing menu at dinnertime for a very reasonable price. Appetizers might include antipasti, risotto or beef carpaccio; pasta dishes include shrimp ravioli and gnocchi. Five large plates are on offer, including braised chicken, veal tenderloin, grilled sea bass and a portabella mushroom (as the vegetarian choice).

The food is fine; the problem is the restaurant is situated in the Lido Market, in a glassed-off section, so it feels like an extension of the Lido rather than its own restaurant. Plus, it's right beside the pool area (so people drift by in their swim suits) and opposite one of the doors to the kitchen, so there is constant noise and traffic.

G Gelato (Deck 9): Serves scoops of gelato for $2. (Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

Tamarind (Deck 10); $25: For the money, quality of food, setting and decor, this restaurant is our favourite onboard. We truly could have eaten every single item on the menu. The setting is sublime, with the venue set high up on Deck 10 at the back of the ship. (We'd love to see some outside dining space, especially when Koningsdam is based in Fort Lauderdale.) The decor is Asian-themed, dark and stylish, with wooden carvings and sculptures.

Food is truly Pan-Asian at Tamarind, with dishes from most of that region including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Vietnam. You're encouraged to pick and mix, and dishes come when they are ready, so it's a relaxed, informal eating experience. Highlights are many and varied, but to just pick a few: satay sampler (with satay styles and sauces from around the region), Shanghai ribs, shrimp tempura, Thai beef salad and crisp fried soft shell crab -- and those are just the starters.

There is also a sushi bar with seating, though you can order rolls from your table. Options include a sushi sampler plate and numerous rolls, all of which come in generous portions. The bigger dishes are divided into Water, Fire, Wood and Earth (vegetarian) and are truly spectacular, with the wasabi and soy crusted beef tenderloin taking the prize, and the braised pork belly coming in a close second. It's almost impossible to choose, so you might need to come back for a second or third night. Desserts include mini doughnuts and Tamarind chocolate, which is divine.

It's open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Koningsdam offers 1,331 cabins and 13 cabin types. These include two new cabin types -- family cabins and solo cabins -- and a variety of suites and spa cabins, all with differing amenities.

Koningsdam's cabins have an upmarket look and feel, with decor reminiscent of a high-end hotel. Carpets are dark mauve with light purple accenting, the walls are Scandinavian-style faux pine and there is a pretty duck-egg blue backdrop behind the bed. The sofa is a similar shade, with tasteful prints on the walls.

Cabins feel roomy -- even the interior ones -- with a good use of space (including slightly smaller sized desks and sofas), meaning you're not bumping into stuff when you walk around your bed or feel crowded when relaxing in the living area. Storage space is generous.

All cabins have two beds that can be converted into a double (except for the new, dedicated single cabins), a safe, mini-bar and hair dryer. A flat-screen TV offers an impressive selection of movies on demand and numerous TV channels including MSNBC, Fox News, BBC and ESPN. (What the TV does not have is the ability to check your account or book restaurants.) There is a writing desk/vanity and two bedside tables. All standard cabins have two wardrobes with plenty of hanging and drawer space; some of the suites and family cabins have three wardrobes. High beds offer space underneath for storing suitcases and an additional two drawers for extra duvets. Two cupboards above the sofa house lifejackets and extra blankets.

All cabins have multiple power ports in both European and U.S.-style sockets (three above the desk and two on either side of the bed, including USB ports). There are also two bedside lights, as well as two reading lights.

All the bathrooms in standard cabins are the same size with the same features, with slate grey tiling on the floor and white laminate on the walls. There is one basin, glass shelves and a trash can underneath. Showers have glass doors; powerful, multi-setting sprays; a footrest for shaving; and three dispensers containing Elemis-brand shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. There is also a bar of Elemis soap. 

Interior: The interior cabins, which start at 143 square feet, feel roomy, thanks to the aforementioned clever use of space. There is no sitting area, just beds and a small desk. Note there are large and standard interior staterooms, and 11 "Spa interior" cabins (see below). The larger cabins also include a sofa bed.

Oceanview: Oceanview cabins (from 172 square feet) feature a short corridor with wardrobes on one side and the bathroom on the other, single beds or a large double, and a small sitting area consisting of a small sofa with a square coffee table and a desk/vanity opposite with a chair and a lighted mirror.

Balcony: There are Verandah (V) cabins that are generally the same shape and size as Oceanview (with some exceptions, detailed below), but with a balcony (inside and outside space together starts at 228 square feet). Some of the lower deck cabins have wider balconies, square in shape rather than a rectangle, allowing for two loungers stretched out. The door to the balcony opens, rather than slides.

In terms of variations, you'll find a few different shapes and sizes within the Veranda classification. For example, four of the V cabins toward the front of the ship (specifically at the "hump", where the ship juts out) are arranged longways, so you walk into one large room rather than along a short corridor into the room. What this means is a large picture window beside the bed and a separate door opening out onto the balcony. The shape is such that the desk is opposite the bed, and there is a recessed area for a small chair, rather than a sofa. The bathroom is exactly the same. The big variation is the balcony, which on a number of the cabins is a triangular shape, with enough room for loungers, a table and a chair. On the other variation, the balcony runs long ways, so it's twice the size of a standard balcony. You'll find these on Decks 5-8 (a number are accessible).

Aft balcony cabins, which can be found on Decks 5 and 6, are categorised "VS".

Suite: There are four different types of suites: Vista Suites (104), Signature Suites (14), Neptune Suites (45, two Spa) and Pinnacle Suite (1).

Vista: Vista Suites (260 to 356 square feet) have all the same features as a Verandah cabin, plus a whirlpool bath and personalized cruise stationery. Note some are aft suites (AS, A), while others are midship (B class), at the edges of the hump where the ship bulges out. The size differentials are down to where the cabin is, so the two aft suits in the centre back are at the larger end, and include a sofa bed.

Signature: Signature Suites (393 to 400 square feet) are located on Deck 7. They have a large sitting area with sofa bed for one person and a private verandah with a floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass door. The bathrooms feature a dual-sink vanity, full-size whirlpool bath and separate shower stall. Signature Suites receive all the Vista Suite amenities, plus one-touch telephone concierge service, fresh flowers and access to a complimentary DVD library.

Neptune: Neptune Suites (from 465 square feet) are located on Deck 7, near the Neptune Lounge. The majority are on the sides of the ship, with two on the aft corners, with larger balconies. They have all the amenities of the Vista and Signature Suites, as well as two beds that convert into one king-size bed, a walk-in closet and large sitting area with sofa bed for two people.

They also enjoy a large number of perks, which include the following:

  • Use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge on Deck 7 and personal concierge service
  • Complimentary sparkling wine served in the Neptune Lounge upon embarkation
  • Complimentary bottled water provided in suite at embarkation
  • Cocktail party with ship's officers
  • Priority dining and seating requests
  • Corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night
  • Complimentary pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres served in suite on request
  • High tea service served in suite on request
  • Exclusive full breakfast service in suite daily
  • Priority boarding for tendered ports of call
  • Special disembarkation service
  • Complimentary laundry, pressing and dry cleaning
  • Complimentary DVD library access
  • Binoculars and umbrellas for use during the cruise

Pinnacle: The one 1,290-square-foot Pinnacle Suite is situated on Deck 7, on the "hump" of the ship. It features a king-size bed, sofa bed for two people in the separate living room, a dining room, pantry, mini-bar refrigerator, microwave, dressing room, guest powder room, floor-to-ceiling windows and private stereo system, as well as a huge balcony with a whirlpool. The bathroom has an oversize whirlpool bath and shower, as well as an additional shower. Pinnacle Suites receive all the same amenities as the Neptune Suites.

Spa: Spa cabins come in inside, outside, verandah and suite categories. Inside and verandah spa cabins are exactly the same shape and size as their standard counterparts; the outside and Neptune Spa Suites are different in shape and size.

All the spa suites are located on decks 10 and 11 near the Greenhouse Spa and come with the following extra amenities: two pedometers, Bluetooth speaker, a yoga mat and complimentary bottles of Vitamin Water. They also allow you to book exclusive spa treatments. Neptune Spa Suites get both spa cabin and suite perks.

Family: The 32 family oceanview cabins (ranging from 222 to 231 square feet) offer room for five (with a bit of a squeeze) and two bathrooms -- one with a child-size bathtub/shower, sink and toilet, and the other with a shower and sink. The room itself is not much bigger than a standard Oceanview. What makes it a family cabin (apart from the two separate wash rooms) is a sofa that converts into a double bed and a Pullman bed that folds out of the ceiling (ask your cabin steward to do this), directly above the parents' bed. The Pullman comes down so low that you would not be able to sit up and read at night without banging your head.

Solo: Koningsdam offers 12 oceanview cabins, ranging from 127 to 172 square feet, for solo travelers. The bed can be considered a "large single" or "small double," and does not take up all the space in the room. There is a small writing desk and chair, and on the variation we saw, there is a large recessed window, in which you could quite easily sit. The bathroom is exactly the same size and shape as the one in a standard Oceanview.

Accessible: There are 27 wheelchair-accessible cabins, of different types and on different decks. Cabin doors are wide to accommodate a wheelchair, and bathrooms are fully accessible. Rooms are wide with lots of space for manoeuvring. Inaccessible balcony cabins, there is a ramp leading outside. Size varies, dependent on cabin type.

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