Holland America Line naming its newest ship Rotterdam is a symbol of its commitment to its 148-year history, says president Gus Antorcha.
The ship is due to depart its namesake Dutch city on a shakedown cruise today after its official unveiling ceremony, before repositioning to Fort Lauderdale in Florida for its maiden season.
“The most important thing about the ship is the name Rotterdam,” Antorcha told Travel Weekly.
Speaking ahead of the ship’s unveiling ceremony from HAL’s former headquarters at the port of Rotterdam, now the New York Hotel, he said: “It’s an acknowledgement of our history and an embracing of our 148 years of operating from this port.”
Antorcha, who became president of HAL in July 2020, amid global travel restrictions due to Covid-19, said his first visit to Rotterdam had made him appreciate how “special” Carnival Corporation’s HAL brand is.
“A brand with this much history takes some time to fully appreciate,” he said. “It’s important for me to be here to really understand that.
“Having that name on our newest vessel is a symbol of our commitment to our history. We’ve always had a ship called Rotterdam in the fleet but it hasn’t always been the newest ship.”
The new flagship is the seventh HAL ship to be named Rotterdam. The last was sold to Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and now sails as Borealis; the fifth iteration is now a floating but stationary hotel in the city’s port.
Antorcha praised HAL’s customer service levels and said: “My favourite part of the ship you will see smiling when you step on board, that’s the crew. We have a long-standing history and tradition of service.”
He also highlighted the music options on board the 2,668-passenger vessel, including the Rolling Stone Rock Room, the Lincoln Centre Stage and the BB King Blues Club.
“It would be very rare, on shore, to have such an intimate venue for that level of music,” he said.
Rotterdam will become the fourth of 11 ships in the Holland America Line fleet to begin operations since Covid.
Antorcha said the line aims to return the rest of its fleet to service in April or May 2022, but was “still working on the details” of deployment but said it was likely to place ships in Alaska – where the line has sailed for 75 years – and Europe.
He said HAL was also aiming to resume its longer voyages – which include 10 to 14-night sailings, Grand Voyages – “towards the latter part of 2022”, explaining that they are “harder to confirm because they visit parts of the world that have more uncertainty”.
Its world cruise is set to return in 2023 on a larger ship, Zaandam, after being postponed in 2022.
Antorcha said the UK was among the “very important” markets for HAL, which include Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, as well as its principal and largest market, the US.
In learning about the brand, Antorcha said he made regular calls to the captains of the line’s 11 ships, and is repeat passengers, known as its ‘mariners’. He said the biggest message they gave him was to “get going again” and return ships to operations.
“People are desperate to get back to what they love,” he said, while noting the difficuties of trying to restart an international cruise business during a global pandemic.
But he said the cruise industry offers “an extra layer” of protection against infection from Covid because of its strict testing protocols for embarkation – explaining that HAL has aligned its European operations as much as it can with the US CDC’s guidance on safe cruising, which requires 95% of passengers and crew to be vaccinated.
He said HAL was “close to 100%” in terms of its staff being vaccinated, and said the protocols allowed the ships to be “pretty normal” on board – with the only added restriction to wear masks when moving between venues and in entertainment spaces.
Antorcha said HAL has seen its highest ever net promoter scores (NPS) since its ships returned to service because guests were impressed with its handling of Covid restrictions.
“Guests really do view this as one of the safest ways to take a vacation. The amount of precautions we take is really above and beyond. It’s an extra level of security.”
He said he could not comment on forward bookings, but when asked said: “We have been very happy with the guests reaction to us returning to sailing.”