Cruise & Travel Lifestyles

Rotterdam Rocks

Rotterdam Rocks

IT’S ALWAYS A DELIGHT to sail on a Holland America ship, or as I affectionately refer to them, “another Dam ship.” The latest “Dam” for me is the Rotterdam, the newest ship in their fleet, which set sail last year in the Caribbean, where we enjoyed a terrific five-night cruise. And, oh, it was lovely to be on board again!

Rotterdam is Holland America’s third ship in the impressive, award-winning Pinnacle Class. She will be christened by HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands in a ceremony in Rotterdam’s namesake city on May 30th. After that, she will spend the spring and summer sailing in Northern Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles before returning to the Caribbean for the winter season.

The atrium with its art centrepiece, "Harps," rising three decks.

Celebrating almost 150 years of history at sea, and in a nod to the cruise line’s Dutch heritage, this ship is the seventh in the fleet to carry Rotterdam’s venerable name and more than lives up to her forbears. The traditions of this iconic cruise brand, well known to repeat guests, are delightfully reflected throughout the ship in many ways and many venues. Yet this vessel is also modern and luxurious – an elegant explorer, one might say. There are tulip motifs on hallway carpets and the staff’s aprons at the Dutch Café. Orange and white napkins pay tribute to the House of Orange, and flashes of this vibrant colour appear throughout the ship. Delft flower vases grace tables and memorabilia, and historic tributes are present, many of them in paintings of previously named Rotterdams.

I so enjoy the Pinnacle Class ships (the sisters are Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam) – they are a joy to behold and a delight to cruise. The Rotterdam is tastefully decorated throughout, with a range of fantastic and varied dining choices and a beautiful, curated art collection, literally a floating art gallery of more than two thousand pieces at a value of over US$4 million. Everywhere you go, another stunning art installation or painting greets you. Each stairwell has a theme – music, architecture or zoology. As you enter public rooms, walk along the hallways or pass through the elevator lobbies, the art is dazzling, enhancing the whole ship. The onboard programming is thoughtful and diverse, and the shows are exceptionally entertaining. And, in a nod to what I believe is the best live music at sea, this lovely ship hits all the high notes!

Here are some highlights to anticipate if you’re thinking of sailing with Holland America – which I highly recommend:

Music Walk on Deck 2 is a big hit in every way, and it’s where the buzz and vibe are so apparent, especially in the evenings. For me, it’s the best music at sea with something for everyone – whether you want some soulful blues, 70’s and 80’s rock, soothing classical pieces or pianists playing and singing long-time favourites. Music Walk has various venues, and it’s where you will find many of us after dinner tapping our toes, singing along and soaking up the groove.

Duelling pianos at Billboard Onboard.

Guests love the Rolling Stone Rock Room – think legendary rock tunes - CCR, Stairway to Heaven, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, etc. The smooth soul sounds of B.B. King’s Blues Club are unrivalled and have people dancing till the wee hours – yes, really!

Lincoln Center Stage performs the classics and some crossover favourites in the afternoon and evening. Take a seat at Billboard Onboard for duelling piano tunes and requests while enjoying an aperitif or digestif. As Holland America says, it creates the finest soundtrack for your cruise, and whether you’re 30 or 75, you will enjoy these venues, the exceptional talent of the musicians and singers and marvel at the sounds you will enjoy on your cruise.

As the fleet’s new flagship, the Rotterdam is the beneficiary of wise investments by the cruise company to elevate the onboard experience with its service, accommodations and cuisine in various venues. The line wisely used the Covid-19 downtime to evaluate and enhance some onboard offerings such as room service with improvements in the presentation, menu and delivery. No more wasteful milk cartons – now your milk comes in a charming small glass bottle. There are no plastics and much less paper, which we applaud. The differences show and are appreciated.

Canaletto offers tasty Italian dinners at $19 per person, or reserve a spot at the superb Pinnacle Grill for lunch or dinner and perhaps for a special occasion. The upcharge here is $15 at lunch and $49 at dinner, well worth the price. For small extra charges, guests can book the gorgeous Tamarind for Asian fusion at $29 or enjoy Nami Sushi à la carte at the bar counter. And you can book directly from your Navigator App – just as you can do for many other things aboard.

Rudi's Sel de Mer restaurant.

We always dine at the ever-popular Rudi’s Sel de Mer for seafood and French favourites with a contemporary twist. Chef Rudi always knows how to surprise and delight his guests’ palates. The pretty main dining room is another choice, and for more casual fare, we love the New York Deli & Pizza at the main, covered pool deck – the pies are made to order and delicious! You can take a table for two or one of the relaxing cabanas, sip a beverage and watch the big screen above the pool, which often shows great BBC Earth videos.

When we wanted some sun, we headed to the Sea View Pool on Deck 9 Aft to take some rays, enjoy a drink, jump in the hot tub or snooze time away – it has a great ambience. One popular meeting point is the gorgeous and charming Grand Dutch Café. Situated on Deck 3, across from reception, it invites you to sit and have a coffee overlooking the atrium with its magnificent art centrepiece.

The Retreat sundeck.

“Harps,” rising three decks. Or you can take a window seat to watch the world sail by. It’s a hopping spot for a snack, casual meals and tasty Dutch treats. Try the poffertjes – they are so yummy – and pair them with a hot chocolate or a Heineken in a specially wrapped Holland America bottle.

A new addition, which became popular quickly, is the delightful Half Moon Bar situated on Deck 2 outside Club Orange, an alternate dining room, primarily for Suite guests. With only four bar stools, several tables for two, and nautical décor it showcases some outstanding signature cocktails giving nostalgic nods to yesteryear ships.

World Stage offers superb entertainment ranging from BBC Earth productions (beyond stunning) to toe-tapping musical productions and, on our cruise, a remarkable story-telling experience about Holland America’s Origins. It’s a poignant must-see and is incredibly touching with a great narrator. EXC Talks – all about Exploration – are presented on sea days. You have only to check your Navigator App to see the dozens of daily activities to enjoy around the ship.

The new Half Moon Bar.

Every Caribbean cruise calls at the line’s award-winning private island sanctuary, Half Moon Cay, in the Bahamas. Constantly rated as one of the best private ports of call, it has gorgeous beaches, crystalline bays, water toys, bars and casual bbq spots. You can have lunch at the Lobster Shack for a surcharge, and enjoy excursions including horse-riding, snorkelling, paddle boarding, and more – including cabana rentals. Stop by Captain Morgan’s on the Rocks, sip a tall island drink and while your day away. It’s heavenly.

Holland America has eleven ships, which sail worldwide. They’re well known for their excellent Alaska itineraries, with terrific land tours that make a great add-on to a cruise.

The lovely new Rotterdam is an elegant explorer with spacious and comfortable accommodations, excellent service from a happy, harmonious crew, and a wide range of activities and amenities – including a new library, various bars and lounges, a sports court, spa and gym, casino, and the iconic and relaxing Crow’s Nest on Deck 12 forward. Their health and safety protocols are excellent, and the whole experience at sea is marvellous. I can’t wait to see what they have in store to celebrate 150 years at sea in 2023.

Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles magazine (Spring 2022). All photos courtesy of Holland America Line.