Holland America Line has been exploring Alaska since 1947. Credit: HAL

The big interview: Holland America Line’s Karen Farndell and Nico Bleichrodt

Author: Kaye Holland

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The Seattle-based line’s UK director of sales and marketing Karen Farndell and vice-president of international sales Nico Bleichrodt tell Kaye Holland why Brits should book a Holland America Line cruise

For those who aren’t familiar with Holland America Line (HAL), perhaps you could introduce the brand?
Karen Farndell: That’s true, we are a lesser known brand in the UK at the moment and so are building up awareness. HAL is all about the destinations. We offer that kind of exploration and experience while also focusing on food and entertainment. We have 11 ships in our fleet and [we are doing this interview] on one of Pinnacle class ships today, Rotterdam, which is the newest vessel in the fleet.

What makes the Pinnacle class ships so special?
Nico Bleichrodt: They are larger and the spaces are wider. There are more facilities on board such as the Grand Dutch Cafe (deck 3) which you’ll only find on the three Pinnacle class ships. We also have more cabins, 1,339 to be precise, and this is the new style.
Karen Farndell: The art is stunning and the service is phenomenal – very welcoming. The way the staff make you feel sets the whole holiday experience. Everyone remembers your name and makes you feel like part of a family.
Nico Bleichrodt: Then there’s the Music Walk. We have three venues: BB King's Blue Club, the Rolling Stone Rock Room where rock bands play, and Billboard Onboard – a crazy piano type model where guests can be entertained during the evening. Our theatre is different from other ships too. We call it World Stage; it’s a 280 degree LED screen where our guests are in the centre.

Let the good times roll in B.B. King's Blues Club. Credit: Kaye Holland

What is your main focus?
Karen Farndell: Next year is the first time that we will be sailing to Dover in a decade so we are excited that we can offer those 10 cruises. There are always people who don’t like flying so these cruises from Dover will definitely appeal to that market. What’s more, people who don’t know the HAL product will be able to experience it closer to home. Sailing from Dover is just a great opportunity for us. A lot of cruise lines are already based out of Southampton so it’s nice to offer something different for the UK market.

What are the challenges facing HAL?
Nico Bleichrodt: Lack of capacity! Our ships are full – we are back sailing at pre-pandemic levels – and that’s a challenge.
Karen Farndell: The other challenge we’re facing at the moment is with regards to flight pricing. We are seeing that flight pricing for the Mediterranean this year is very expensive so even if we have cruises available, flights can be high and that’s out of our hands.

UK director of sales and marketing Karen Farndell is excited for 2025 and 2026 ex-Dover sailings. Credit: HAL

Conversely, what do you think is the secret to HAL’s success?
Nico Bleichrodt: Tradition. We are still sailing the oceans the way they were in early days. HAL continues to consider destinations as one of the main pillars of the brand - we want to bring our guests to the most beautiful destinations in the world. Our onboard experience is different too – the quality of our culinary experience, and our musical entertainment all of which is perfectly adapted to our audience.
Karen Farndell: And I suppose the secret is that just not enough people in the UK know abt HAL. Of course that is also a challenge, and we need to raise that awareness.

HAL is synonymous with Alaska having been sailing to America’s wildest corner since before it became a state in 1959. Tell us a little bit about the Last Frontier…
Karen Farndell: Nico is your guy as he has been to Alaska six times.
Nico Bleichrodt:
I’ve done the inside passage, a round trip from Vancouver roundtrip. I’ve also done the cruise and land adventure which combines an Alaskan cruise with a three-day at our 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort in Denali National Park. I always recommend people to spend at least three days in Denali National Park because it’s quite the experience.

The reason I have had to keep going back is because the challenge in Alaska is what kind of excursions do you choose! There’s so much to see and to explore. You’ll see whales, bears, glaciers… I’ve been six times and I will go back. Next time I want to visit the Yukon, Gold Rush territory. We offer a Yukon and Denali cruise tour which combines a classic Inside Passage cruise with a trip to (and lodgings in) Denali National Park and then on into the mysterious Yukon.

My top tip is to make sure you are well prepared: Look at what you want to do and book in advance as excursions such as helicopter ride to Mendenhall Glacier – where you can go dog sledding on a glacier – sell out quickly.

Karen Farndell: Think about the time of year and what you want to see too. The Alaska season started on April 27 and runs until the end of September, but July and August are the months to visit if you want to see bears. That being said, those months are also more crowded so there are pros and cons to going at different times of the year.

Nico Bleichrodt aims to double HAL's UK passenger numbers in the next few years. Credit: HAL

Do you have a favourite HAL ship?
Karen Farndell: Niew Statendam – I had a great trip onboard last year and it’s also the ship that I will become most familiar with as it is based in Dover for 10 sailings in 2025 and again in 2026. This is great news as it does show real commitment and confidence in UK market growth. I’m excited.
Nico Bleichrodt: Any of the three Pinnacle class ships get my vote.

Lastly, if you could invite anyone onto a HAL ship, who would it be and why?
Karen Farndell: I’d invite Bon Jovi. I’m a big fan of Bon Jovi and I’d love to see him play in the Rolling Stone Rock Room. That would be really cool.
Nico Bleichrodt: I like music and am a fan of Adele, so I’d invite her.

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About Kaye Holland

Kaye is a London-based wordsmith who has written for a range of publications including The Times, The Independent, The I, Culture Trip, The Sun, and ABTA among others. In June 2022, Kaye joined the Real Response Media where she looks – together with Lucy Abbott – after the World of Cruising website. Want to get in touch? Kaye can be reached at: [email protected]