We continue the second part of our photo-tour of Holland America Line’s Rotterdam in a little room just aft of the Explorations Cafe on Deck 5.  This intimate, bright room is home to one of the newest enrichment programs offered board Holland America ships: the Digital Workshop.

Digital Workshop powered by Windows®

Rotterdam’s Techspert John in the Digital Workshop.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
Ten years ago, most cruise ships didn’t have internet access, let alone the type of classes being offered with Holland America’s Digital Workshop program.  You can learn the ins and outs of digital photography, video editing, blogging and web skills all from the comfort of the intimate classroom located next to the Explorations Cafe
Perhaps best of all, all classes are complimentary and focus on transferable skills.  You don’t need to go out and buy any extra software to be able to do this at home, and while the program is sponsored by Microsoft, Mac-lovers need not feel out of place: in fact, the top-of-the line Sony Vaio laptops run Windows 7, and represent a great chance for PC and Mac users alike to learn the latest software.
Rotterdam‘s resident Techspert John walked me through some of the activities that are offered on each cruise, many of which start with photography.  Almost all passengers have a digital camera, but few really know the ins and outs of the device itself, let alone the act of transferring photos to the computer to email or use on a blog post.  
 Sony VAIO laptops running Windows 7
in the Digital Workshop.
Photo ©2010 Aaron Saunders
Most classes take place on sea days.  One of the fun activities offered is a Photo Scavenger Hunt.  It works just like a regular scavenger hunt, with the exception that when you find the item (or person) in question, you have to take a photograph of it.  Participants then meet back at the Digital Workshop room where the pictures are transferred to the computer and shown to the group. 
John showed me some photos of the scavenger hunt from the last cruise.  Everyone seemed to be having an absolute blast, posing with various pieces of art around the ship, crew members, and even other passengers.  The incredible thing was that not only did these passengers learn how to work their camera, but they also experienced how much fun this can all be.  Most of the Rotterdam’s cruises are longer voyages, but with people wanting to stay in touch with family members, what better way to showcase your travels than with a photo-blog?
The passengers clearly think so too.  John said so many passengers come up to him at the end of the voyage to thank him for these classes.  Most come to the first class initially wary, afraid there’s going to be a catch – financial or otherwise – waiting in the wings.  There isn’t.  By the end of the voyage, the passengers are genuinely impressed with both the courses and their own level of progress.  
As John puts it, the greatest disadvantage, if you can call it that, is that space is limited.  They’d like to squeeze a couple extra laptops into the classroom, but they don’t want to loose that intimate, informal atmosphere.  Right now, the room resembles a small lounge complete with comfy couch-style seating, as opposed to the cold, windowless “classrooms” found on other cruise lines offering similar programs. 
If you’ve always wanted to brush up on your skills, or are just curious about what all these things like blogs and Twitter are all about, there’s never been a better time – or opportunity – to learn about it.
You can read more about the Digital Workshop powered by Windows® here.
The Showroom At Sea
  The new Showroom at Sea.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
When show lounges first appeared on cruise ships, many were single level rooms seating a few hundred guests.  With the launch of ships carrying thousands of guests, the show lounges on most newer cruise ships resemble large amphitheaters, with stadium-style seating.  Holland America’s new Showroom at Sea concept aims to create a more intimate, clubby atmosphere than the previous show lounge.

The most obvious addition to the room located on Deck 4 forward is the table-and-chair seating offered at the front of the showroom.  Chairs upholstered in dark red offset tables with dark cloth placed atop them, adding to the dinner lounge atmosphere.  A quick look around the room, though, shows that renovations to the area have been extensive.  Carpeting has been entirely replaced with a new color scheme and pattern, and the wooden floor underneath the table seating is likewise new. 

Showroom at Sea Upper Level.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

The rest of the seating has been completely re-designed.  Not only is it far more comfortable than the previous seats (which were rock-hard on a good day), it seems easier to get in and out of the rows, and the semi-circular arrangement of all seats helps to ensure a good sight-line no matter where you are in the room.  Additional seating is available on the upper level of the Showroom, located on Deck 5, and comes with a slightly darker purple color scheme to offset the pinky-reds of the main floor. 

The only thing that really hasn’t changed are the beautiful glass lights located on the ceiling, and the curtains and statues on the sides of the theater.  Everything else is brand new, and the room feels larger and less cluttered than in its previous form.  The elimination of the former bright red carpeting and upholstery also lends a slightly more elegant atmosphere.

 Stairs between Decks 4 & 5 in the Showroom.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

The fact that Rotterdam carries only 1,404 guests helps this concept to succeed.  Indeed, it would be difficult to execute this as successfully on the line’s larger Vista-class ship that hold around 2,000 passengers.  On this size of ship, however, the concept feels like a welcome improvement.

The Mix Bar Area: Champagne, Spirits & Ales, and Martinis

The Mix Menu: Martinis, Spirits & Ales, and Champagne.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Heading aft from the Showroom At Sea and up the atrium stairs to Deck 5, we come to perhaps the most impressive change made during Rotterdam’s December refit: the new Mix bar area.

 Sleek spaces and colorful but pleasing designs
grace the new Mix area.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Occupying the space that was formerly the smoky, dark Sports Bar and Ambassador Lounge, and continuing aft until the midship stairs, the new Mix bar concept is actually three separate areas: Spirits And Ales, located immediately aft of the atrium; Martinis, located just aft of Spirits and Ales, and Champagne, which occupies the area beween Martinis and the midship staircase, as well as the passageway running between the two.

 The bar area in Spirits & Ales.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

At first glance, the decor in each seems the same, and therein lies the brilliance of this concept.  Each lounge is intimate enough to be cozy, but large enough to ensure anyone who wants a seat here can easily get one.  Best of all, menus in each lounge include offerings from each bar, meaning you don’t physically have to sit in Martinis to get a Martini.

 Digital, touch-screen tables featuring interactive games.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Probably the most talked about feature of Spirits and Ales are the touch-screen tables.  Using touch technology developed by Microsoft, these unique tables display the Mix logo in what looks like wavy, colored water.  Most passengers thought that was pretty cool on its own – including myself.  It wasn’t until I touched it that the logo disappeared, replaced with a selection of digital games that you can play by yourself, or with friends. 

If there’s a downside to this, it’s that these tables are immensely popular, and there’s only a few of them.  They could almost stand to have one at each table in Spirits and Ales.  But overall, it’s a fantastic idea and a great way to pass the time while waiting for your beverage of choice to arrive, or to simply enjoy the company of friends.

Even the corridor between the shops and Explorer’s Lounge
has been given a new purpose.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders 

Martinis and Champagne have a slightly brighter look to it than Spirits and Ales, and both lounges are well within earshot of the pianist located in Champagne.  Indeed, we actually thought we could hear music from the Ocean Bar until we realized the entertainment was just ‘around the corner.’  Despite its proximity to the Casino, remarkably little noise bleeds out of this area and into Mix.  The former shops across the hall have also been re-done, eliminating walls and opening up the passageway.  The result is a new set of public rooms that feel remarkably open and inviting.

 Looking from Champagne towards Martinis.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Service was quick, courteous and staff exhibited the friendliness and uncanny ability to remember names that Holland America is known for.  We’d met our server James up on the lido deck earlier in the afternoon, and he had mentioned he would be working in Mix that evening.  He asked our names, we asked his, and then we went about our day.  Seven hours later, he came up to us with a smile and addressed us by name without any hesitation.  It’s both a talent and a gift that these dedicated employees have, and one with makes each passenger feel special.  I think most cruisers, including myself, would be hard-pressed to remember the amount of names these men and women remember in any given week.

 Kick back and enjoy a martini…at Martinis!
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

So what to drink?  There’s a generous list of champagnes, martinis, cocktails, cognacs, beers, whisky – you name it, it’s here.  Old HAL favorites mix with new cocktails.  Drinks are reasonably priced, and there’s something here to suit every budget.  Feel like an indulgence?  You might want to try the $100 dollar Martini for Two – featuring XO Cognac and two generous scoops of Caviar.  I didn’t try it, but I have to admit it was tempting.

Small appetizers, like Burger Sliders, are also available at Spirits and Ales (and the rest of the Mix area) from 11am to 2pm.  These are complimentary.

Indulge in a wide selection of bubbly at Champagne.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Three of our tour, as we check out some of the best features of the Rotterdam that have been present since her launch in 1997 – and beyond.

 

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