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Zuiderdam is not the world's best known cruise ship.  However, those
who traveled on her in 2010 gave her the best overall ratings of the 15
ships in one of the world's most popular cruise lines, Holland America
Line.  Accordingly, I sat down with Captain Christopher Turner,
Zuiderdam's master, and her Hotel Manager Edwin Brunink to discuss the
reasons for their ship's success.

A Strong  Brand

Both Captain Turner and Mr. Brunick agreed that the Zuiderdam's
success rests upon the strong foundation provided by the Holland
America brand.  Therefore, I asked them to tell me what are Holland
America's strengths.    

     Captain Turner immediately listed the Holland America crews as the
most important factor. "To me as a seafarer, a ship is a ship.  A ship is so
much steel all put together.  But the people who run the ship are the thing
that makes such a huge difference.  I have sailed for several companies
and without doubt HAL has the best crews - - personal relationships with
the guests and with each other."

        Mr. Brunick explained that a good crew translates into good
service for the guests.  "Our crew truly takes pride in providing excellent
service."

      The second factor cited by Captain Turner was where the HAL ships
go.   "We have a very wide range of itineraries.  Of course, we target
areas like Alaska where we are very strong indeed.  We have more
Glacier Bay permits than any other company."   

      "But then we have the worldwide itineraries as well. The United
Kingdom is a very popular destination so we are putting more ports in
around the UK.  When I was captain of the Prinsendam, I twice did the
Polar Ice Cap, which is certainly an unusual destination.  I also did a
77-day cruise around Africa. So we have that range as well for people
who want to spend a lot longer and do something out of the ordinary as
well as the more standard Caribbean itinerary as well  We are always
looking at new itineraries."   

      Indeed, Mr. Brunick added :"We are expanding our cruises in
Europe.  Also, we are bringing another cruise ship to the Australia/New
Zealand region. "

       Turning to the next factor, food "is a big part of a lot of people's
cruise."  Captain Turner said. "When you think of cruises, you might first
think of destinations but very quickly on that list is food because it is a
whole part of your cruise experience."

     "We are known in the cruise industry for providing excellent food,"
the Hotel Manager continued.  "We have some exciting new programs
happening in that area including the new Culinary Council - - top-rated
chefs from all over the world who run Michelin-star restaurants now
work with our corporate executive chef Rudi Sodamin   looking at our
menus and introducing new dishes, their own signature dishes.   In the
Pinnacle Grill, we have the Le Cirque Evening.   So I think in the food
area, we go above and beyond and we stand out from quite a few of our
competitors."

      In fact, Holland America takes providing high quality meals so
seriously that there are food tastings in the galley in which, Captain
Turner noted, the ship's senior management participate.  "Every dish is
brought out and every dish is talked about.  Two or three times a cruise
I'll go down there.  One purpose is that the cooks see that we are
interested and the other is that it is a non-professional person just trying
it."  These tastings are done even though  "it is the same menu each cruise
because it is important to see what goes out.  We make [any] corrections
before the dishes go out to the dining room."

      On the HAL ships, the food operation is not limited to providing
meals.  As Mr. Brunink pointed out HAL is also very serious when it
comes to teaching about food.  "We pride ourselves on our culinary
program.  We try not only to keep up but to be forerunners.  We have the
Culinary Arts Center, where we do all the demonstrations and cooking
classes.  We invite guest chefs on our ships.  We have all kinds of
initiatives that Holland America Line is introducing and doing."

      HAL is also known for its enrichment program.  It not only brings
guest lecturers aboard but the cruise director's staff includes specialists
such as a travel guide to provide information about the destinations, a
tech expert to teach about computers, and a party planner to host the
culinary classes and provide tips on food, wine and entertaining.

       "Today's guests expect a much more sophisticated product.   People
expect something a bit more.   Those are the people that we tend to have
as our demographic - - professional people.  They do not want to go and
just sit on a beach somewhere or sit out on deck; they want something
more out of their cruise.   Some people want information about the
destinations they are going to see, they want a lot more out of their cruise
holiday,"  Captain Turner explained.

      The final factor listed by Captain Turner was that HAL delivers
value for money.  "We do offer an extremely good cruise experience, a
high class cruise experience, for a very good value.  There are the top
end brands that maybe offer a little bit more - - and that is not always the
case - - but they are more expensive.  There are other brands that can put
more people in the same size ship because the cabins are smaller and you
do pay less there.  But we try to offer a higher product for a very
competitive value."

The Zuiderdam Difference

Zuiderdam may be HAL's best kept secret.  She has been in service
since 2002 and is probably best known for being the first of HAL's
Vista-class ships.  She has the same features as her sister ships.   Yet, I
found - - and apparently other guests have as well - - that she has a
positive atmosphere that puts her ahead of her fleetmates.        

      "Last year we had the highest ratings overall in almost every area.  In
fact, last year, our average in each area for the year was above target in
every single rating area. I don't think any ship has had that before."  
Captain Turned said proudly.

      "The competition is stiff.  Some ships do better in some areas and
some ships do better in others.  But to actually achieve for a whole year
an average which exceeds every target is very unusual."

      The ratings are based upon the comment cards that guests complete at
the end of each voyage. "We are rated on a scale from one to nine, nine
being the highest rating, one being the lowest.  All areas [of the cruise
experience] are rated.  We have a certain target for each area, which we
aim to exceed."  Mr. Brunick explained.

      It is important to look at the yearly average in order to assess  a
ship's performance.  "You can do exactly the same thing on two different
cruises and get different ratings.  When I pick up the comment cards, the
first one may say that 'Aruba was the best port on the whole itinerary, you
should stay there twice as long.'  I'll pick up the next one which will say
that 'Aruba was the worst port, you should cancel it all together'.  So we
have to balance everyone's comments.   You have to look for trends
rather than at the individual [cruises]."   

      These cards also serve as a management tool.  The ship's
management can see from the ratings when a particular area of the ship
needs attention.  In addition, the written comments on each card are read
by the Captain, Hotel Manager and the Cruise Director. "That is where
we really look for trends, significant items that standout.  They can be
positive but also areas of concern.  Of course, we follow up on that," Mr.
Brunick elaborated.

      Why does Zuiderdam get consistently good ratings in all areas?  
Captain Turner said without hesitation "I think we have the best crew in
the fleet."

      "We are very proactive in what we do - - myself, the Hotel
Manager, the Chief Engineer, the staff officers on the ship    The very first
thing we do when new crew join is we go down, introduce ourselves and
we just have a chat.  I always tell the crew that it is extremely important
to me that they enjoy their contract here.  'If you are having a good time,
you will make the guests have a good time.   You don't say as you walk
out from the galley to the dining room 'I must put a smile on my face.' You
are already smiling because someone has told a joke and you come out
and you are enjoying yourself and enjoying interacting with the guests."

      "If they have a problem, we have a human resources manager
onboard who is their first point of contact but we always tell them, the
Hotel Manager and myself, that we have an open door policy.  If they
need to see someone, they can come in and see us. We can't always
guarantee to solve the problem but if they can sit there and tell us it is
much better.  I think from there that they actually feel that they have not
just been put in here to fill a position and that they are going to be here
for ten months and nobody cares."

      After that initial contact, both the Captain and the Hotel Manager
make a point of chatting with the crew members when they are walking
around the ship.  Mr. Brunick explained: "You show them that you care
and that you are very approachable.  There is none of 'My goodness,
there is the captain or there is the hotel manager!' They feel comfortable."
 
      In addition, "we also have a full social program and calendar for
them - - all kinds of activities, crew tours, sports events, soccer matches.  
We have karaoke nights, we have movie nights, special dinners,
gatherings.  The human resources manager really stays on top of it and
listens to the crew and what they would like.   For food, for example, we
listen to what are their preferences, what they would like to see and
whenever possible we make adjustments."

     The most significant physical difference between Zuiderdam and her
sisters is the décor, which Captain Turner described as "brighter" than
other HAL ships.  "Every ship should look different. You feel
comfortable because you know the ship when you come back [to HAL].  
You know there is going to be a Crow's Nest and an Ocean Bar.  But you
can definitely recognize the Rotterdam from the Zuiderdam and the
Zuiderdam from the Noordam."
     
HOLLAND
AMERICA
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VERISON OF THIS ARTICLE
Above: Zuiderdam.
INSIDE VIEW:

HAL’S SECRET

Captain Christopher Turner and
Hotel Manager Edwin Brunink talk
about why Zuiderdam is Holland
America’s top-rated ship.

by Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship interview - Holland America Line - Zuiderdam - Captain Christopher Turner and Hotel Manager Edwin Brunink
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Above: Captain Christopher Turner.

Below: Hotel Manager Edwin Brunink