Captain Jeroen van Donselaar was the first captain of the Eurodam. He brought the ship into service and was in command when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands christened the ship in 2008. “I'd have to say that was the highlight of my career. I got to invite a lot of friends and family and it was a moment of true glory.”
Following the christening, he was to stay in command of Eurodam for the next five years. While other captains would assume command while he was on leave, Captain van Donselaar was the ship's primary captain and thus played a key role in shaping the ship and the cruise experience that she offers during her most formative period. As he neared the completion of his last contract on Eurodam before talking command of another ship, I asked him to speak about Eurodam.
Eurodam was the first ship built in Holland America Line's Signature class of ships. This class was designed to incorporate all the elements of the line's Signature of Excellence program under which the line's existing fleet had been enhanced as well as everything HAL had learned about cruising up to that point.
“You have to see this as basically a process of evolution. Holland America started its new build program in the '90s. The first ship built was the Statendam. Little design improvements were made throughout the years and, of course, the ships got bigger. The things that were incorporated into the ships after the Statendam were incorporated here.”
Eurodam remains pretty much the state-of-the-art Holland America product. “You can say that the ship that was launched after this - - we have one sister ship, the Nieu Amsterdam - - was a very slightly improved version of this. Things were discovered after the fact and then improved upon on the Nieu Amsterdam. Minor things, mostly behind the scenes.”
The Signature class ships are an outgrowth of HAL's popular Vista class (Zuiderdam, Westerdam, Oosterdam and Noordam). However, Captain van Donselaar is quick to point out that Eurodam and her sister are not Vistas.
“The hull is actually the same as the Vista ships. The difference is everything above the hull - - the white part all the way on up to the top - - is different. The stern on this ship is slightly more rectangular and of, course, we are higher. The funnels are higher and we have the added two decks. The other major differences are behind the scenes, techinical differences.”
“In terms of sea-keeping, because the hull is the same, [the sea-keeping properties of the Vista ships and the Signature ships] should be the same. I was captain on three of the four Vista ships and I find them from that perspective to be very similar.”
For part of the time that Eurodam was being built, another ship was under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy. The other ship was to become the Queen Victoria of Cunard Line. She too was an outgrowth of the Vista design and so there is a family resemblance. However, the Victoria was built with a lengthened hull.
“I like the Victoria. Of all of the Vista-platform ships that Fincantieri has built, I would say by far the most gracious one is the Victoria. The additional 11 meters does something to the ship.”
Captain van Donselaar foresees similar enhanced sea-keeping properties for the new ship HAL has on order with Fincantieri.
“I haven't seen drawings yet of our new class of ships that are going to come out, [but it is reasonable to expect that] you will see something of that in there. We are almost 87,000 tons, the Pinnacle class is going to be approaching 100,000 tons. You can imagine that it is an enlarged and improved version of [Eurodam]. I don't think it will be a radical departure from this. It will certainly be longer and larger, more efficient.”
Of course, there is more to Eurodam than her nautical qualities. Her interior is a mixture of contemporary design and museum quality art work. Quality and sophistication are hallmarks of the Eurodam cruise experience
“The key word for our ship, and for our company Holland America Line, is 'premium.' We operate in the premium market. It is a classic atmosphere. We don't necessarily offer some of the amenities that you have on the bigger newer ships like water slides, theme parks, golf courses and things like that. It is still classic.”
Ships have distinct personalities. This is true even for ships that are essentially identical physically. “You may step on the Nieu Amsterdam tomorrow and it will be different, not worse, not better, just different.”
This personality is a product of the ship's history - - where it has been and what it has done - - plus the personalities of the people who serve on her, not only now but also those people who brought the ship into service. On Eurodam, a genuine friendliness characterizes the ship's personality.
“The launch of this ship was amazing. Of course, in the intervening years until now, we have seen a lot of changes in the crew. A lot of team members have left us to go on to other Holland America ships or land-based careers but the really, really good atmosphere that we started off with in 2008, we have been able to maintain and build it into our people.”
On Eurodam, “our management style is very approachable, anyone can talk to us. We have an open door policy and we certainly don't follow the old school type of management. We go out of our way to make it enjoyable for them too. I think really the secret of why the crew is so friendly is because we are friendly to them.”
Hanging on the walls of the corridors leading to the passenger cabins on Eurodam are photographs of some of the famous Holland America ships of the past. Many of them are well known not only for their elegance but also for their personalities. Will passengers on a Holland America ship in the distant future stop at a similar photo and say with awe: “That is the Eurodam!”
“Yes, and that will be my legacy.”
Cruise ship interview - Eurodam - Holland America Line - Captain Jeroen van Donselaar