The two aspects of cruising on Oosterdam that really stood out were the entertainment and service. Therefore, we spoke with the ship's officers about those aspects of the Oosterdam cruise experience.
An entertainment revolution has taken place on Oosterdam. There is always something going on. Indeed, there are often multiple things going on. And what is impressive is not just the quantity but the quality of the activities and entertainment. To talk about this revolution, I spoke to the person in charge of entertainment Entertainment Director JT Watters.
The title “Entertainment Director” is a fairly new one on Holland America. Traditionally, the cruise director has had two roles, acting as both the performing host of the ship and as a behind the scenes executive responsible for the programming and execution of activities and entertainment. Holland America has now separated these roles.
“The cruise director is strictly the voice and face of the ship. They are out and about with the guests, hosting the events and activities,they are keeping the guests informed over the PA system, they are greeting them on the gangway to and from the ports of call. They are the fun person, basically,
“As the entertainment director, I oversee the entire entertainment department. The cruise director is one of the ones who report to me in addition to the stage manager, the assistant cruise director, all the singers, dancers, supplemental staff, clergy, youth staff etc.”
Let's begin with night time entertainment. Following her 2016 refit, Oosterdam has what Holland America calls “Musicwalk” - - three new entertainment venues along Deck 2. “Musicwalk is the music capital of the high seas, as we like to call it at Holland America Line. We have it on a handful of our ships and we are going to roll it out to as many as we can because it has been wildly successful.”
The first venue is Lincoln Center Stage where artists from New York's Lincoln Center perform.. “Lincoln Center [is] the number one center for the performing arts. We have our piano quintet and they do, not only classical music but they even do rock and roll and all types of different genres. So it is not just for classical fans but for the fans of music in general. Their quality is second to none. They are just about the most impressive you could get in that world.”
Moving forward on Deck 2, you come to the BB King Blues Club. “The best word to describe that area is the party. For those who like to dance that is the place to go. It's not only blues and jazz but it is mainly Motown and party songs and keep people moving. The people who want to get active, we enable them to do that for the majority of the night. It is just a really fun, laid back atmosphere. It is a place that gains momentum as the night goes on.”
The club features performances by the BB King Blues Club All Stars, a very tight band of professionals, not a cruise ship bar band. “They are absolutely not a cruise ship band. They are from the BB King Blues Club on land. We have extended that phenomenal program that you can find in Orlando, Vegas, New York and LA and now they have a home on Holland America on ships as well.”
For the third venue, Holland America took away the walls that separated the piano bar, the sports bar and the casino and constructed an island where guests can sit around a pair of dueling pianos. “Billboard Onboard is the chart toppers, the fun music that everyone likes to sing along to. We cover the music of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s but we also visit specific genres – R&B, country music etc. We encourage those guests to sit around the pianos, grab a drink and sing along.”
These three venues offer some 10 shows a night. In addition, Oosterdam offers two shows each night in its theater, which has been renamed “The Main Stage.”
“We are one of the only companies, if not the only company, to do something absolutely different every night in our Main Stage. Some of the other cruise lines have partnerships with other companies and they do one show three nights in one part of the cruise, then another show three nights in a row. We keep the variety to the point where it is something new and different every single night.”
The production shows in the theater are not developed in-house but rather by a company in New York. The singers and dancers “rehearse in New York for about six weeks or so and then they take that cast and bring them out to the ship.. They have shows that feature the hits from the 50s to today. Tonight's show is with the dancers and is entitled Musicology. It is a dance concert. Then the next night you might be watching a show entitled 'One World' and it is Mother Nature's take on the environment and the visuals are all stunning. It is all done with our multi-million dollar LED panels. We spent a lot of money to do things correctly.”
The shows are only one part of Oosterdam's night time offerings. “If you would like to get away and just enjoy some nice piano music, we have that too up in the Ocean Bar.” There are also showings of recent movies in the Screening Room as there are throughout the day.
During the day, the activities are designed to “enrich your life. We are trying to enable our guests to live a better life and [so we] provide quality activities instead of the useless, meaningless things that some times cruise ships [do], some of the traditional things. We are trying to sharpen our program and really make it engaging for all of our guests.”
To this end, Oosterdam has technology classes with Microsoft experts, culinary demonstrations done in conjunction with America's Test Kitchen and talks developed by O, the Oprah magazine.
Whereas many cruise ships have next to no programming when they are in port, Oosterdam maintains a good schedule. “We don't offer quite as much on a port day as we would on a day at sea. [But] we find that we have a large quantity of our guests that do enjoy relaxing onboard and a lot of our guests have been to the areas that we are sailing. With 300 or 400 people onboard out of 1700 or 1900 people total on the ship, we do try and offer a few things if they do decide to stay onboard.”
There is also an extensive amount of content on the interactive television system in each stateroom. “We have loads and loads of movies and TV shows. Of course, live TV as well. You can view the menus and things like that. There is all sorts of information in addition to the entertainments aspect.”
In its entertainment offerings, Holland America has gone in in a big way for name brands rather than for programs developed in-house. Beginning with Microsoft and then the BB King Blues Clubs, “we found that signing partnerships with these great names improved not only the revenue but the attendance and the overall ratings and the happiness of our guests. We thought let's run with this and in comes Lincoln Center Stage and in comes America's Test Kitchen and O, the Oprah magazine and it is not going to stop, it is only going to continue. There are going to be new and exciting programs coming out in the years ahead as well.”
It is important to note that in these partnerships, the land-based company is not merely lending its name to the programs and activities presented onboard the ships. Using Oprah as an example, “it is not just her name but her team. Oprah has such a phenomenal team. The creative director for the magazine Adam Glassman has an unbelievable fashion program. We have incorporated everything that they do with traveling. So we have our cruise directors explain how to look phenomenal but also pack for these vacations and we mold it into events that are tailored to the cruise industry as well.”
This is not to say that there is no home-grown programing on Oosterdam. For example, while most cruise ships have a port shopping expert who talks about shopping in the ports or call and a team of people who sell shore excursions, Oosterdam also has an expert who gives talks about the ports and who can answer passenger questions about the ports beyond the shopping and the excursions.
“We pride ourselves on taking you to as many corners of the world as possible and it is only helpful to have as many people onboard as possible that can help make that journey not only a memorable one but one where you don't feel like a tourist. Our Explorations Central Guide works in tandem with our shore excursions department to make sure that you are armed with everything that you would want to know about before making your way into the next port of call.”
A happy ship
Another aspect of Oosterdam that is striking is the attitude of the crew towards service. Holland America is a premium cruise line and so good service is to be expected. But on Oosterdam, the crew gives the impression of being happy to be there.
“The majority of our crew are either from Indonesia or the Philippines. We are including other nationalities but still keeping it an Asian crew as much as possible. We have training centers in both of those countries. Before they join Holland America, the crew have their training there. As we end our contracts here, when we go back, we have re-trainings that we also do. It has enabled us to be hospitable,” explains Guest Relations Manager Annechelle Sy.
In addition, many crew members have been with Holland America for a long time. “For those of us who have been here with the company for so long we have worked with some of our colleagues here before and on another ship as well. So even though we move around, we see familiar faces.”
Finally, “It is our home away from home. We mostly spend our time here rather than at home.”
Cruise ship interview - Holland America Line - Oosterdam - Entertainment Director and Guest Relations Manager