Holland America Reaches Out to Families

Successful Club HAL program will get more improvements

By: Kenneth Shapiro

ABOARD THE OOSTERDAM For Kyler, age 9, from Boise, Idaho, life is about simple pleasures. Was he excited to be in the Caribbean on one of Holland America Line’s new Vista-class ships, the Oosterdam? Sure. Was he happy to visit Half Moon Cay, the line’s private island, where he could make sand castles on the white-sand beach? You bet. Did he enjoy Club HAL, the cruise line’s extensive kids program? Yes, again. But when asked what the best thing about his cruise was, he didn’t hesitate before giving his one-word answer.

“PlayStations,” he said.

Kids will be kids, on land or sea.

The PlayStations Kyler referred to were located in the Club HAL Kids Center (made up of the KidZone area for younger kids and the Waverunner area for older kids), and they were indeed popular. Boys and girls about Kyler’s age came and went, sometimes sitting at the machines in pairs to play against each other. The kids joked and chattered, and seemed perfectly at home in the center and with each other. It felt like their clubhouse and that’s the point.

“By the end of the cruise, there are always a few kids that cry because they don’t want to leave,” said Wendy Slimon, director of Club HAL on the Oosterdam. “They feel at home here. Even the shy ones laugh and get goofy before too long.”

Of course, the Playstations are only a small part of Club HAL’s offerings. Slimon and her staff offer numerous activities for kids age 5 and up, including sports, arts and crafts, games and more. All programs are tailored for the specific age groups on a particular sailing. Some of Club HAL’s more creative offerings include luau parties, carnival night and even a formal casino night for teens. Then there’s camp night.

“We decorate the center like the woods and have the kids build tents out of sheets,” said Slimon. “Then we have an area with lights that looks like a campfire, and we’ll sit around the campfire and make s’mores and tell ghost stories. All the kids love it, no matter what age they are.”

No kidding. Sign me up.

Meanwhile the kids’ parents can have a relaxing dinner on their own in one of the Oosterdam’s formal dining rooms. Everyone wins.

“They do a great job here,” said Kyler’s mother, Pam Loveless. “Kyler loves it and we don’t have to worry about him.”

Kyler has a severe allergy to peanuts, yet she said she’s comfortable leaving him in the hands of the Club HAL staff.

“They’re totally professional,” she said.

Slimon stressed that parents are always welcome to accompany kids on Club HAL activities too.

On a long day at sea, in particular, Club HAL can be a godsend for antsy kids. “Sea days are the busiest,” Slimon said. “Kids come and go all day. But a lot of kids don’t even want to leave for lunch.”

The newly designed Club HAL Kids Center includes an arts and crafts area, a stage for rehearsing plays and screening movies and an “ice cream parlor” area with high barstools like an old-fashioned soda fountain. The kids love the center, Slimon said, but her staff uses the entire ship to entertain the kids, from the video arcade to the ping-pong tables to the basketball court.

For Holland America, the success of its eight-year-old Club HAL program is crucial. As part of its $225 million Signature of Excellence initiative, the line plans to expand the program over the next two years to include children as young as age 3 (and out of diapers) and update other features.

“We think Holland America is already a great venue for families,” said David Giersdorf, executive vice president of Holland America. “Since Sept. 11, that’s even more important.”

According to Giersdorf, part of the reason for the Club HAL overhaul is the trend toward multi-generational travel. While cruisers still tend to be older, there are more grandparents, parents and grandchildren traveling together these days and more of a need for services that will please a wide range of passengers. Giersdorf said the changes will help to better service the needs of passengers, with child care programs for kids 3 and up, more physical space for Club HAL and an area specifically for teens.

“We don’t necessarily try to attract families,” Giersdorf said. “But our customers are coming with kids. We see the Club HAL changes as simply ensuring that we meet the needs of our customers.”

For parents, another of Holland America’s big draws is the line’s private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay. The island offers all the usual beach fare and water sports, plus Club HAL hosts volleyball contests and sand castle building among other activities. During times when there are a lot of kids onboard, Club HAL also organizes a pirate treasure hunt and a teen beach party.

Furthermore, Holland America intends to add new shore activities on Half Moon Cay, such as horseback riding, a stingray lagoon experience and a new kids Aqua Park and a Waverunner park, all scheduled to be in place by year’s end.

With these and other changes, Holland America is hoping that even its youngest passengers will appreciate the company’s famed “Tradition of Excellence.”

It seems to be working already. Just ask Kyler.