How Holland America Names Its Cruise Ships

Rich History in the Names of the Vista Class of Ships

Eurodam at Anchor at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas
Linda Garrison

The Holland America Line of cruise ships has been serving passengers for more than 130 years. It has a rich history with many traditions and practices including its naming conventions. Despite its change of ownership to Seattle-based Carnival in 1989, the cruise line remains consistent with the naming of its passenger ships in Dutch with the "dam" suffix and coupling it with a famous body of water, mountain, location, or directional bearing.

Learn more about the Vista class of Holland America ships each named for the points on a compass Zuiderdam (south), Oosterdam (east), Westerdam (west), and Noordam (north).

What's in a Name?

"Dam" means the same thing in Dutch as it does in English—it's a barricade across a river or a dike that keeps water from overflowing onto the land. Without dams and dikes, the low-lying Netherlands would be flooded. About two-thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth. 

In addition to incorporating "dam" into its ship names, there is a lot of history, too. Several of the cruise ships in the current fleet bear the same names of ships that played important roles during World War I or World War II. 

Vista Class Ships

There are four Vista ships that are named for the points of the compass in Dutch. These ships were designed mainly for shorter (less than two weeks) cruises in the Caribbean, Alaska, and Europe. The Vista class launched in the early 2000s. Zuiderdam arrived in December 2002, followed by the Oosterdam in July of 2003. The Westerdam was delivered in spring 2004, and the Noordam completed the grouping in February 2006.

History of the Zuiderdam

The first vessel with the "zuider" prefix, which means "south" launched in 1912 as the cargo ship Zuiderdijk ("dijk" or "dyk" was the suffix used for cargo vessels; "dam" is used for passenger ships). At 5,211 tons, the ship sailed between Rotterdam and Savannah, Georgia, for Holland America through 1922, with a brief stint during World War I as a transport. In 1941, the 12,150-ton Zuiderdam was launched from a shipyard in Rotterdam for outfitting. However, a month later the ship was damaged during a British air raid and capsized.

The hull was raised and later sunk by the Germans to block the port of Rotterdam to Allied access. After World War II, the Zuiderdam was again raised, yet the ship never saw completion.

History of the Oosterdam

The only ship to bear the "ooster" prefix was the 8,251-ton, one-prop Oosterdijk. The was put into service in 1913, also sailing from Rotterdam to Savannah. During World War I, the ship served the Allied war effort.

History of the Westerdam I

The first Westerdam sailed for Holland America Line from 1946 to 1965. A combined cargo/passenger ship, with five cargo holds and accommodations for 143 first-class passengers and 126 crew members, the ship made the Atlantic crossing twice a month between Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and New York City. The 12,149-gross-ton, twin-propeller ship took eight days to make the crossing.

The Westerdam was a survivor of three sinkings during World War II before it ever made its maiden voyage.

Its keel was laid in Rotterdam on Sept. 1, 1939, at the Wilton Feyenoord Shipyard, but construction was suspended when the Germans invaded Holland in 1940. On Aug. 27, 1942, the half-completed ship was bombed by Allied forces at its berth and sunk. German troops raised the ship, but in September 1944, it was sunk by Dutch underground resistance forces. Raised again by the Germans, it was sunk for the third time by the Dutch underground in January 1945.

After the war, the Westerdam was raised by the Dutch and construction was completed. On June 28, 1946, the Westerdam departed Rotterdam on its maiden voyage to New York. It continued regular trans-Atlantic service until it was sold to Spain for scrap in 1965.

History of the Westerdam II

The second Westerdam sailed on 643 voyages for Holland America Line during a career spanning more than 13 years with the company.

The ship, which began service as the former Home Lines' Homeric in 1986, was named the Westerdam and officially entered service with Holland America Line on November 12, 1988.

The Westerdam's arrival expanded the fleet to four ships and signaled the beginning of a new era of growth for Holland America. In 1989, the Westerdam underwent a notable $84 million renovation at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where it was originally built. During an extended drydock, it was "stretched" by a then-cruise industry record 130 feet, increasing its capacity 1,000 to 1,494 guests and its size from 42,000 gross tons to 53,872.

After carrying more than a million guests on Caribbean, Panama Canal and Alaska cruises, the ship left the Holland America fleet on March 10, 2002, transferred to sister company Costa Cruises, where it continued its career cruising European waters as the Costa Europa.

History of the Noordam

The Noordam III had sailed for the fleet since 1984. In 2005, the Noordam III was sold to Louis Cruise Lines, which chartered her to Thomson Cruises. The newest Noordam is the fourth Holland America ship to bear this name. The Noordam II often sailed the same routes of the Westerdam I, and like its counterpart, took eight days to sail from Rotterdam to New York City.

Holland America Fleet

Holland America Line operates 14 ships. A new ship is expected to join the fleet in December 2018 and will be named the Nieuw Statendam. In addition to the four Vista ships, the other ships in the fleet are the Prinsendam, Maasdam, Veendam, Rotterdam, Volendam, Amsterdam, Zaandam, Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam, and Koningsdam. Many of these ship names have been used more than once and come from a historic log of ship names that bridges the company's past with its future growth.