©2010 Aaron Saunders

I remember the first time I saw Holland America Line’s flagship, the MS Rotterdam.  It was on the cover of the August 1999 issue of Cruise Travel Magazine.  I took one look at the beautiful photo on the cover and knew that some day, I had to sail on her.  The dark-blue hull and gleaming white superstructure spoke of something modern, but hinted at the line’s venerable past.

Rotterdam at Seattle’s Pier 91.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders 
Eleven years later, I got my chance.  Excited to experience the new refurbishments the 780-foot long, 59,885-GRT ship received during its December 2009 drydock, I jumped at the chance to sail on a 1-night cruise from Vancouver to Seattle.  It was the first time the Rotterdam had docked in Vancouver, and may be the last for some time, as she’s due to resume sailing in Europe next summer.  
In order to give cruisers new to Holland America, as well as past “Mariners” a better sense of what they can expect from the new Rotterdam, I’ve decided to split these posts up over three days:

Today: The Retreat, The Staterooms

Tuesday: Digital Workshop powered by Windows, The Showroom At Sea, Mix Bar Area
Wednesday: Revitalized Public Rooms & Outdoor Decks  

Of course, more photos, in addition to the ones on the blog, can be viewed on my Rotterdam photo site here.  Be forewarned!  I like to take pictures…lots of pictures.

Public Room Photos – click here.
Outer Decks & Pools – click here

Let the tour begin – welcome aboard!

The Retreat      
     The Retreat onboard the Rotterdam.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Perhaps the biggest unexpected hit onboard our short 1-day cruise was The Retreat.  Added during Rotterdam’s refit in December, during which the entire pool area was moved up one deck, The Retreat replaces the former traditional aft pool with an innovative shallow pool area and an expanded aft deck.
 Tile loungers in the main pool area.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
The pool area is divided into two sections.  The first area is 16 inches deep, and features orange ceramic loungers in fixed positions.  A hot tub with a small waterfall adorns the aft end of this section.  Guests can lay on the loungers, or sit on the benches and dip their feet in the water.  Or, as some guests did, laying in the thin layer of water itself proved to be quite popular. 
Adjustable deck chairs in the shallow pool.
These sit in about eight inches of water.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
On either side of this are two sections featuring flexible white deck chairs – the front and backs of which can be positioned at any angle you’d like.  These can also be folded down completely to make a half-circle shape popular with sunbathers wanting to lay face-down. 
This is one of these areas where photos really can’t convey how well-designed this entire concept is.  Photographs barely show the thin layer of water that the chairs sit in, and waterfalls placed throughout the area remain hidden to all but the most observant viewers.  
In person, the colors are aesthetically pleasing, and the entire pool is made up of curved angles and materials, giving it a smooth, sea-like appearance.  In fact, if there’s a downside it’s that this area was so popular that bar service felt decidedly understaffed.   Within an hour of taking these photographs, word had spread among the passengers (“Hey, you’ve gotta check out the cool pool at the back!”), and the area became the place to be during sailaway.  In fact, most passengers I spoke with had no idea the area had been added a mere five months ago – the majority said the whole area was so well designed it looked as though the ship had been built with it.
The soft glow of the Retreat Pool at night.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
The shallow water was immensely popular.  Many people of all ages took their shoes off and sat on the wooden benches that line the edge of the area and dipped their toes in the cool water.  Therein lies what makes this area so unique – there’s a startling number of passengers that have no interest in getting soaking wet in a pool, but who would still like a way to cool off while enjoying the sun.  
 Plenty of seating provides a great way to dine outdoors.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
The extended pool deck also allows for two rows of comfortable deck chairs placed at the stern and along the port and starboard sides.  Farther forward, tables and chairs serve as an eating area for those wishing to have their Lido food pool-side.  The Retreat also sports a new pizzeria, Slice, as well as a dedicated bar.  The pizza on offer at Slice – of which there were multiple kinds – was fantastic, and is a colossal improvement over the previous product.  
Rotterdam’s new LED screen.
Slice is on the left; The Retreat Bar on the right.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders 
Above these two areas is a giant LED screen and sound system.  On paper, it all sounds very unnatural for a Holland America Line ship.  In practice, it is a fantastic addition that surprised me with how well it functioned and how nicely built it was.  I sincerely hope HAL adds this area to its other ships in this and the Statendam-class.  After having experienced it, I would personally go out of my way to cruise on a ship with The Retreat in place.

Will it work in Alaska?  That’s a big question.  Certainly, it’s a feature designed for warm-weather cruising.  Still, the hot tub is bound to see some use, and the expanded pool deck will certainly be popular during sea days or sunny port days.

 The Retreat is currently only available onboard Veendam and Rotterdam, but will be added to Maasdam, Ryndam, and Statendam during drydocks in 2012 and 2013.
 Revitalized and New Staterooms
 New Lanai staterooms feature access to the Promenade Deck.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

The big news is the addition of 39 Lanai Staterooms which feature a sliding glass door leading directly to the Promenade Deck from the stateroom.  These rooms have the same square footage as a standard promenade deck oceanview cabin, but borrow their color schemes from the Spa Staterooms.  
Cabin numbers on the exterior of the ship.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders 
Cabins are numbered both the inside and outside of the ship, and each cabin features two teak loungers dedicated to guests of that cabin.  These loungers are marked as such, and ample loungers for passengers in other types of accommodation can still be found at the forward and aft ends of the promenade deck.
Each Lanai cabin comes with a reserved deck chair.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

The best veranda.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

HAL didn’t overlook other staterooms during the Rotterdam‘s December refurbishment: all staterooms onboard were fitted with new carpeting and upholstery, an update bathroom design, as well as new light fixtures and bedding.  
Category “E” Oceanview Stateroom 1857.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Another addition to HAL staterooms are the inclusion of flat-panel TVs and DVD players.  You can use these to either play DVDs from your own collection, or “rent” one from the extensive list available onboard each ship.  Best of all?  Rentals are complementary!
New throws and pillows on the “Mariners Dream Bed.”
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
Here comes my only complaint about the stateroom, and it concerns the bedding: where’s the duvets?  Bedding consisted of a thin top sheet and a light-blue colored wool sheet in between that and the bottom sheet.  Beds were as comfortable as they have always been (if you’ve never been on HAL, you’re in for a treat), and the pillows are still top-of-the-line.  But the lack of a duvet seemed like a strange oversight for a line truly committed to small details.  Then again, I think the lack of a top sheet on Princess is strange too…
 The updated and attractive bathrooms.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
Unique to Holland America is the fact that almost all of their bathrooms feature tubs, even in some of the lowest-category cabins.  You won’t find any small, cylindrical showers here.  The bathrooms are also more spacious and better laid out than most of their competitors, and still feature the same high-quality Elemis bath products.  Gone is the old modular plastic look, replaced with a tile floor, dark marble colored countertop, and an attractive relief panel on the same wall as the toilet. 
All stateroom categories still feature Elemis bath products.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
Also striking is just how large the rooms are on Holland America.  After several cruises on Princess and Royal Caribbean, we were surprised to find our standard, run-of-the-mill Oceanview cabin was even larger than our last balcony cabin on Princess.  There was ample room to move, and storage space would never be a problem, even on longer cruses.   We’d taken many Holland America cruises before; however, it isn’t until you try other lines that you realize how generous HAL is with their cabin space.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of our Focus On Holland America’s Rotterdam.  We will give you the lowdown on their new bar concept called The Mix, as well as the new Digital Workshop Powered by Windows® and the re-branded Showroom At Sea.

One Response to Focus On…The Rotterdam, Part 1

  1. […] It was an overnight cruise between Vancouver and Seattle aboard Holland America Line’s Rotterdam, a ship I had always badly wanted to sail aboard and which, by stroke of fate, made her way over to […]

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