While some cruise ships are trending towards becoming destinations unto themselves, the rest seem to be returning to cruising basics with a finer focus on where they sail, and Holland America Line just put its name in the hat as the next in line with its new Explorations Central, or EXC, program.
Having just sailed on the Westerdam, it’s exciting to see that the ship, appropriately known in-house as the “Testerdam,” will be the first to receive the hardware associated with the new program by April 2017: essentially a vastly enhanced observation lounge. Where the Crow’s Nest and adjacent Explorations Cafe and library now sit, a new EXC venue (rendered above) dedicated fully to the destination will take shape.
On the surface, this may seem more evolutionary than revolutionary, but rather than a traditional simple shore excursion desk, outline of available tours and occasional lecture, the shoreside experience will now be highlighted onboard much more than before.
For starters, an observation lounge with windows beyond the ship is the perfect venue for such an endeavor, and renderings display a much better use of the space, finally doing away with the benches along the windows that guests can currently only sit in to see inwards. Plus, the overall decor is an improvement as well, as the separate spaces are tied together more harmoniously with handsome Scandinavian decor.
While only select ships in the Holland America fleet are set to see the transformed Crow’s Nest besides the Westerdam, some form of EXC center is scheduled for the full fleet through 2018. In that regard, the software is perhaps more significant. As an onboard extension of the brand’s partnership with AFAR Media, EXC Port Guides will be able to interact with guests to discover the destination more in depth before and after experiencing international ports-of-call.
It’s now more about destination immersion and cultural interactions, not unlike what corporate cousin Fathom briefly introduced before its sole ship leaves the fleet next year. It stands to reason that programs like Holland America’s and extensive EXC Encounters could be the future of the Fathom legacy on other lines in the Carnival Corporation portfolio. All that would make it nearly identical in spirit would be volunteer opportunities as well.
In the meantime, “feature language and cultural etiquette lessons, hands-on discovery of local items and products, participatory programs covering music and dance and storytelling sessions,” as described by the line, sound just like the onboard program currently available on Fathom, and regional cultural representatives will build further excitement for upcoming destinations with opportunities ranging from learning how to play steel drums from a Trinidadian to making flower leis with a Hawaiian. So, it would seem Holland America Line will take up the torch to an extent.
The new Explorations Central will certainly be the hub for such activities, likely to activate the venue more during the day for destination studies and relaxing gazing upon the horizon as the ship approaches ports, data of which will be creatively displayed on a virtual ship’s bridge too.
-Originally published in Travel Pulse Central News JASON LEPPERT | DECEMBER 15, 2016
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