Jane Archer - Holland America

Suddenly a snake appears, an evil-looking beastie, then another, then another. The iguana, a fledgling, freezes momentarily, then starts a life or death sprint to safety as more and more reptiles, tongues flicking greedily, give chase.

Welcome to Blue Planet 2 in concert, a new show playing on nine Holland America Line ships through an exclusive partnership with BBC Earth, accompanied by live music performed by musicians from New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff. We gasped when one of the iguanas was caught, cheered when he escaped and breathed a sigh of relief when a giraffe managed to beat up a pride of lions instead of becoming their dinner.

I was lucky enough to see Frozen Planet in concert, Holland America’s first production in tandem with BBC Earth, on Koningsdam, when the ship launched a couple of years ago. This time I am watching the show on a flying visit to Zuiderdam while she is overnighting in Amsterdam, to see new features added during a refurbishment at the end of last year.

All are venues that worked so well on Koningsdam that Holland America is adding them to other ships as they go in for their regular refurbishments. There’s Billboard Onboard, where pianists sing and play songs from the hit parade, and Lincoln Center Stage for live classical concerts.

The Crow’s Nest has been converted into Explorations Central (known as EXC), a venue with interactive maps of the places the ship is visiting, a virtual bridge and talks hosted by ‘EXC guides’. There is also a tour desk there but Abrie, one of the guides, assured me it was there for convenience only and his job was not to do a hard sell on the excursions.

Finally, Sel de Mer, the French restaurant that debuted on Koningsdam, pops-up in the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse on Zuiderdam once per cruise. It doesn’t have the same extensive menu as the one on Koningsdam (which I reckon is one of the best restaurants at sea), but no matter. If you are ever on Zuiderdam, do give it a go. She is sailing fantastic cruises in the Baltic this summer and next, and naturally you can book with those nice folk at ROL Cruise.

Maasdam - Holland America Line

Maasdam Goes Exploring

One of the many projects I’ve been involved with recently was a magazine devoted to expedition cruising. It really is the buzz in the cruising industry at the moment, with an amazing 25 or more expedition ships due to launch in the next two or three years.

To put that in context, in all the years I have been writing about cruising (20, since you ask) there has been just one newly-built expedition ship – Hurtigruten’s delightful Fram – which I saw christened in Oslo in 2007.

And now Holland America is getting in on the expedition act (sort of) by kitting out Maasdam with Zodiacs and sending it on a 239-day voyage from Fort Lauderdale through the South Pacific, Australia and Asia. The epic voyage starts in September and ends in San Francisco in May 2019.

“It’s a giant step for Holland America – light touch expedition if you like – with zodiacs to go exploring in the more remote places,” Bill Fletcher, the cruise line’s senior director in charge of destination, told me.

He had the dream job of scouting out the places Maasdam is visiting and was raving about the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific when I met him on Zuiderdam. Apparently they are like the Society Islands in French Polynesia (which are just gorgeous) but better!

He doesn’t expect many people to book the entire 239 days (although they could, as, apart from two cruises from Papeete in Tahiti, no itineraries are repeated) but instead to put two or three sectors together. ROL Cruises has them all on its website and can help you plan your perfect itinerary.

Maasdam has room for 1,258 passengers but there’ll only be about 1,000 on at any one time as they need space for a team of experts who will host lectures and workshops on sea days on subjects as diverse as growing coral, Captain Cook and photography.

Hurtigruten Norway

Light fantastic

I know we’re only halfway through the year but I have started drawing up my bucket list for 2019. Vying for top place are a cruise around Japan (because it is the ‘in’ place to cruise right now) and a Norwegian coastal voyage with Hurtigruten.

I did a two night snippet of the latter many years ago, but would love to do the entire trip, from Bergen to Kirkenes on the border with Russia and back to Bergen in summer because a) my friends at Hurtigruten are always telling me how great it is, and b) it is hugely popular with ROL Cruise customers so it must be good.

In case you are one of the readers who hasn’t done it yet, you’ll find more details about the voyage in the August 2018 issue of Blue Horizons.

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