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
“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
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
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
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.