Cruise vacations have always been an attractive choice for multigenerational family vacations. A hassle-free way to explore the world, family cruises balance together-time with opportunities for everyone in the family to pursue their own interests too. And thanks to all-inclusive cruise pricing, there’s no sticker shock when it’s time to settle the bill.
That said, not all cruise lines are equal when it comes to handling the needs (and entertainment) of multiple generations on a single cruise ship. So when my family recently embarked on a five-day Holland America heritage cruise aboard the MS Rotterdam, I took it as an opportunity to evaluate the cruise line’s offerings specifically as it relates to multigenerational cruising.
What to Know about a Holland America Heritage Cruise
Transporting us from Rotterdam to Oslo and Copenhagen before we disembarked in Amsterdam, the MS Rotterdam was like a proverbial floating hotel. (Unpacking only once was the cherry on top.) Not only was this Holland America heritage cruise within our budget, it’s included in the line’s ongoing kids sail free cruise deal that lets children ages five to 18 sail in the same stateroom as two adults for free. But even setting aside its budget-friendly price, I came away convinced that a Holland America heritage cruise is a perfect fit for a multigenerational cruise vacation. Here are 10 reasons why.
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1. Holland America’s History
These days Holland America (HAL) is a leisure cruise line, but back when it launched HAL was primarily a carrier of immigrants from Europe to the United States. From 1873 until well after the turn of the century, it brought nearly 2 million immigrants to North America. This legacy resonates with millions of Americans, including myself. My grandfather made the journey from Rotterdam to Ellis Island aboard a Holland America ship. Immigrants came from across Europe to depart from the city’s large port.
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As soon as my family arrived in Rotterdam, I made a beeline for the Hotel New York. The hotel was originally Holland America’s headquarters, and I got a thrill knowing that my grandfather had been in the exact same building in 1913 at age 14 preparing for his solo journey and new life in America.
2. Heritage Travel Is on the Rise
I’m not the only person interested in connecting with their family origins; heritage travel is booming. To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Holland America Line introduced heritage cruises that focus on ports with a connection to the brand’s history and meaningful onboard experiences. HAL’s heritage cruises feature “Origin Story,” a visual telling of the cruise line’s history.
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As we watched, my family and I learned that Holland America offered turn-of-the-century passengers previously unheard of perks such as pre-departure English lessons, classes on American civics, and even medical services, which contributed to the fact that 99 percent of the immigrants carried on the fleet were cleared for entry through Ellis Island, a tremendous feat at the time.
3. Throwback Experiences
Heritage cruises present a taste of Holland America’s Dutch seafaring heritage. At the Dutch high tea service, we sampled an assortment of luscious confections from oliebollen to gugelhupf. The culinary clock was turned back each evening when a dish that was originally served onboard generations ago appeared on the dinner menu. Our family’s favorite was chopped steak with Sauce Robert, which tasted a lot like Salisbury steak. In the late afternoon, Throwback Happy Hour featured old-world cocktails made with Dutch gin.
4. Spacious Staterooms
Holland America has roomy staterooms with a foldout couch that can accommodate up to five guests. Beds have a very supportive mattress, a gift for my middle-age back. Complimentary travel cribs may be requested in advance if your multigenerational cruise includes a baby on board. And if a member of your family group has mobility issues, there are accessible rooms along with elevators and ramps throughout the ship.
5. Low-Key Entertainment
If you’re craving high-adrenaline action like zip lines, go-karts, or giant cruise ship water parks, Holland America’s heritage cruises are probably not a fit. Your time onboard will be focused more on nostalgic activities to strengthen family bonds.
Entertainment is low-key, with ping-pong, vintage board games, jigsaw puzzles and Sjoelen (a Dutch version of shuffleboard) being popular pastimes. A nightly family-friendly outdoor movie screened under the stars (complete with blankets and freshly popped popcorn) was a hit with our group.
6. Supervised Kids Programs
For passengers ages three to 17, Club HAL is a supervised program with a dedicated space for each age group. The club is staffed with professionals trained to work with a variety of learning styles. Kids can try their hand at arts and crafts, video game competitions, scavenger hunts, and more. Themed parties in the evening free adults to listen to top-notch live musical performances at the Music Walk.
Holland America may be a historic cruise line, but it knows how to embrace a new trend when it sees one. That’s why all Holland America ships have pickleball courts. This racquet sport is easy to learn, which may explain why it’s the fastest growing sport in America. If you’re curious to give it a try, there are even tutorial videos on your stateroom TV.
8. Fancy or Informal (Take Your Pick)
Heritage cruises on a Holland America ship are as swanky as you want them to be; service is always gracious, though never stuffy. If you’d like to dress up for dinner, go ahead. If you prefer to eat a burger in your bathing suit by the pool, no problem!
9. Finicky Eaters Are Welcome
Holland America tempts little palates with kid-favorites like mac and cheese and half-portions. If you want to try one of the specialty dining venues that incur an extra fee, kids 12 and under eat for half-price.
My family found ourselves gravitating towards the ship’s casual eateries, chowing down on Nathan’s hot dogs, burgers and fries at the poolside Dive-In, and cheesy slices at New York Deli and Pizza. Highchairs and booster seats are available.
10. Shore Excursions
On my family’s Holland America heritage cruise, the MS Rotterdam visited Rotterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam in five days, ferrying us to a new destination each morning. There were dozens of shore excursions to choose from at each port, including some offering discounts for youngsters.
Our favorite excursions were the inexpensive hop-on, hop-off double decker buses, allowing us the freedom to get off when and where we wanted to. Of course, if some members of your group want to remain onboard and enjoy the ship at its uncrowded best, that’s a fine option as well.