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A tour of Holland America 1050 and 1051

I had never seen an Ultradome before, but was developing an interest, so my two year old son Trevor and I set out obscenely early from home one morning in mid-April and made the four and a half hour drive to Seattle to catch up with two of Holland America's newest and finest. After maneuvering through the downtown area (no easy feat for a small city boy...) and standing in awe of Safeco field and the new Seahawks stadium, we ventured into King Street Station for a guided tour of the cars.

I'd only been on the platform at King Street Station once before, after a late arrival on Amtrak's Cascade's Talgo, so I wasn't really sure where I was going. Luckily, the massive domes stood out above everything around. Despite being buried behind a Sounder commuter locomotive and double Decker car, the distinctive glass-topped cars were clearly visible. Unfortunately, that left very little room for picture taking. After snapping a photo of the exterior of the 1050, we headed in through the very inviting door to begin our tour.

Inside the 1050, we got our first look at the styling of Holland America's new cars with a stop in the downstairs dining room, and boy what an eye-full. Holland America's literature states that the cars were decorated to match colors found in the native flora, including (and I quote) "green of Alaska Jade, purple of native wild iris, and honey of fall tundra grasses". The first thing that caught my eye, though, was the neat etched glass artwork that had just been installed the previous evening (making Trevor and I among the first few thousand to see the car in its actually completed state). As I am told, the artwork is internally lit, and features colors that change with the movement and speed of the cars. Interesting.

The even numbered cars are designated as "A" cars, and feature a kitchen and expanded dining room, but no platform or lounge area.

After touring the dining room of the 1050, we headed through the kitchen and into the next car (I almost missed the transition, it was so seamless) and upstairs to the dome section of the 1051.

Though its not well illustrated here, the edges of the steps on the spiral staircase are all lit, and the edging trim is done in either a marble or faux equivalent. With the warm neutral tones, the stairway was actually one of my favorite parts of the entire car.

This being my first trip into an ultradome-type car, I was also stricken by the resourcefulness of the spiral staircase, which has a much smaller footprint than the traditional linear stairway found on the Budd domes. I would estimate that the use of the spiral entrances probably allows the car to seat at least four more passengers.

Looking back toward the stairway from a vantage point midway down the car, you get a feel for the airy, spacious dome accommodations of this car. It's hard to believe that this is the upstairs level of a two level car!

Notice how the car is towering above the pair of Sounder F59's stored on the track adjacent to the domes. Out of view just behind me is a Bombardier double-decker commuter car, which we are also peeking over the top of.

The most impressive thing for me is that I stand a full six feet, three inches tall, and I am standing up straight here, with headroom to spare. On our way up to King Street Station, we had stopped and toured the Spirit of Washington dinner train, which had recently had a complete interior refitting. The train features both Budd and Pullman short length domes, as well as an ex-Milwaukee Road full dome car built by Pullman, so the differences were still fresh in my mind. What a great feeling!

If I had to single out one critique of the cars' presentation, it would be most directly illustrated here. I have a lot of respect for the methods used in designing the car interior, but the collision of colors and patterns is sometimes disconcerting. Now I'm no interior designer, but I'm pretty sure that the style has to break some sort of design rule. Now the avant-garde rebel in me says that rules are made to be broken, but I'm still pretty sure that a "good" interior should blend a little better. I don't know. But one thing's for sure: Trevor didn't seem to care all that much. Through the whole tour and the introduction by the car hosts, he sat in his seat and looked around in a calm manner that was exactly the way you would expect a two year old who had gotten up at 4:00 that morning NOT to act... What a kid. By the way, note the folded down seat tray ala airline seats (Trevor like that quite a bit) and the channel selectors for the seat stereos. Headphone jacks are provided in the seat sides, right below the arm rests.

In case you are in the mood for a snack or a game of rummy, you can always have a Holland America steward install one of the small tables that are available as well. This is a great feature, as you could hardly tell where the tables went when they weren't installed. Trevor took a moment to tell our Holland America car host that "we were on a train" while I snapped a photo with a wide angle lens. If we were peeking out over the tops of the bilevel commuter cars on the tracks to one side of the cars, then we absolutely towered over the low-slung Talgo set on the other track. Make no bones about it - these cars earned the title of largest passenger cars ever built.

There's a stairway on each end of the car, and we descended the far end to take a look at the lounge area before heading outside. Note the glass doors, which lead to the ADA compliant wheelchair lift. It's worth mentioning that the lift equipped cars (which would be the odd-numbered "B" cars) feature a couple of removable seats with wheelchair tiedowns, and an additional tiedown inside the lift, giving them 89 available seats. It also bears mention that the B cars feature a lounge area (seen here) and observation platform in place of the kitchen. They are intended to travel in pairs.

With the Sounder cars in the way, we didn't get much of a view outside on the platform. But substitute some Alaska scenery in place of the commuter cars and locomotives, and the effect must be spectacular. And if you're seeking a little bit of fresh air, then the platform is a good place to do your sightseeing.

At this point, I was starting to get concerned about my being parked in a 30 minute zone, so I stepped off, perhaps a bit more quickly than I had wanted to. But never the less, my tour aboard the newest and largest dome cars ever built had been a memorable one. I intend to do this one again in Alaska.....

The Talgo on the adjoining track departed during our tour, so before we headed back to the car, I bravely ventured across another platform to try and get a little more broadside shot of the cars. The cruddy lighting conspired to defeat most of my efforts, but I did manage one useable shot of the 1051 before we headed to the car to make the trip back home before dinner.

This was my first visit inside an ultradome car, and it left an indelible impression. My next a month later would only serve to reinforce my impressions, leading to the compiling of this site. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had been less hurried, and asked for permission to photograph the upstairs of the 1050 as well. Without the wheelchair lifts, I would imagine that the atmosphere is a little different. Maybe next time...

Next spring, I have an invitation from Holland America to tour the cars of the next four-car order, which is due to be delivered sometime in March. I imagine I'll be sharing some of those photos as well, as I plan to be a little more thorough.. And then, of course, I'd like to head up north and actually put the service to the test in person. I've heard nothing but praise for the route. Being inside these cars only whetted my appetite..

I hope that you have enjoyed this up close and personal tour through Holland America's newest dome cars. The service and attention given to my son and I by all of the Holland America staffers was to be commended. I hope that the tours provided on this site serve to arouse your interest in taking your own ultradome adventures! Thanks for visiting.

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