This is not so much a review of ROTTERDAM VI, but some thoughts and opinions about the experience.
Itinerary: Departure on July 12, 2011. 9-nights. New York to Rotterdam with one stop in Cobh, Ireland.
This voyage was touted by Holland America as a traditional crossing. One mailing I received advertised "Relive the days of the great transatlantic crossing". Well that was enough to grab my attention! Two crossings (one Eastbound and one Westbound) were advertised to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of Holland America's transition to vacation cruising. Scheduled to be onboard were The Pasadena Roof Orchestra; Master chef Daniel Orr; Bill Miller aka "Mr. Ocean Liner"; marine painter Stephen Card; and Naval Architect Stephen Payne. Unfortunately Mr. Payne did not make the voyage, but in his place was actor and singer Lorna Luft, better known as the daughter of legendary Judy Garland.
As much as I enjoyed the crossing, I don't think HAL will be scheduling a repeat performance. Fares hit rock bottom, and while the ship was full the yields had to be very low. Frankly most people are just not interested in a leisurely crossing with 7 days at sea and only one port. For me it was an itinerary made in heaven! The fewer ports the better! According to the Cruise Log, we motored our way a total of 3443 nautical miles from New York to Rotterdam, with a single stop in Cobh, Ireland. Our cruising conditions ranged from slight seas and fog to a fresh gale and rough seas. All in all it was a smooth voyage, a little too smooth for my liking. The first couple days were almost Caribbean like, with warm temperatures and plenty of sun bathing by the pool. Later the temperatures dropped, although it was never cold and there was some fog.
I started the trip in my hometown of Philadelphia, visiting family. Being in Philadelphia afforded me the opportunity to swing by the waterfront and grab some photos of SS UNITED STATES. Even in her current state she is an imposing and impressive figure on the waterfront. Her stacks still rank as some of the most impressive ever put to sea. A quick ride on Amtrak's Acela Express from 30th Station and I was in NY. My ship, the ROTTERDAM VI awaited at the West Side Passenger Ship Terminal in Manhattan.
My first impressions of ROTTERDAM VI were quite positive. She is in excellent condition and I liked the upgrades performed on her, minus the ridiculous "Retreat" at the aft end of the ship. I do admit The Retreat looks better in person, but frankly it's a complete waste of space and a second quiet pool is sorely missed. We had many families on this crossing and the kids basically took over the only pool, which is located midship under the magrodome. Public spaces and my cabin looked excellent and were in top condition. I absolutely loved the size of ROTTERDAM VI. At just 1404 passengers and 59,885 gross tons, she is easy to navigate and never overwhelming. I actually preferred her over the brand new NIEUW AMSTERDAM which I sailed on last November.
I occupied cabin 3307, which was forward on Lower Promenade Deck and overlooked the outdoor promenade deck. My window was tinted, so at least during the day the walkers outside could not see in. The cabin was a nice size and offered a good view of the ocean. I liked the fact I could easily get out on deck in a matter of seconds. Overall though I would have preferred an outside cabin on Deck 1 or Deck 2 with direct ocean views. Being so far forward meant a little more movement, and being directly under the show lounge meant you could hear rehearsals each morning starting at about 9:45am, and of course the evening shows as well if you happen to be in the cabin. I was usually still sleeping when the rehearsals started so they became my morning wake-up call. Most nights I didn't get to sleep until 3am or later, in part because we lost an hour most nights of the cruise. This is definitely a disadvantage of an Eastbound crossing. On a couple occasions we even lost an hour during the day, with the clocks being set forward at 2am and 2pm. One feature of the cabin I haven't seen in years is piped in music. These days on the newest ships, if you want music you have to turn on the TV. On ROTTERDAM VI, they still have a separate little control panel by the bed with several channels of piped in music over the cabin's speaker. This was a nostalgic touch I really enjoyed.
One incident that happened early on is that I got sick, presumably with the dreaded noro-virus. This happened on the first evening after dinner. It came on quick, in the way of an upset stomach and fever. The next day I decided to go to the doctor and I was quarantined for 24 hours. Basically the symptoms went away as quickly as they came on, in just under 24 hours. What is interesting is that I'm a flight attendant exposed to thousands of people held captive in a silver tube every month, and I've never gotten this illness before. I've also sailed on about 90 cruises and this was the first time I contracted this virus. I guess there is a first time for everything, no matter how careful you are. One aspect of this illness that marred my entire crossing was an oversight by the medical center. They put me into the computer as being under quarantine. The next day they called me to check on my condition, and at that point I was released from quarantine. Unfortunately they never took me out of the computer. This meant for the entire cruise whenever I gave my cabin number, I was identified as being under quarantine and given the third degree by a staff member. They would then have to call the medical center (if it was open) to confirm I was released. The medical center would advise that I would be taken out of the system but they never followed through. On the last day of the cruise my friends and I decided to have lunch in the dining room. For whatever reason HAL requests your cabin number as you enter. Sure enough when I gave my cabin number the quarantine was still listed and we were asked to step aside. This is when I about blew a gasket. It was the last day of the cruise and frankly I was tired of being reminded and inconvenienced about something that happened on the first day! I think the friend that was with me was even more upset than myself, and demanded to speak with the Hotel Manager. Unfortunately that never happened and we got apologies but no real resolution to the situation. This aspect of Holland America did not impress me.
Since we are on the subject of service, I'll say that overall food and service was adequate. We had traditional main sitting (late) for dinner and we never had the nice introductions from the wait staff. Our head waiter never came to check on us until the last evening. Too little too late. Often times the waiter would forget who ordered what and would have to ask, or sometimes just forget all together. It wasn't horrible or anything, but it certainly wasn't polished or memorable either. The same holds true for the quality and presentation of the food. It was all good enough, but nothing really stood out as being exceptional.
Some of the entertainment on this crossing was truly a highlight of the voyage. The Pasadena Roof Orchestra was a delight, and really transported one to a bygone era of big band, dancing, and glamour. Bill Miller as always gave exceptionally entertaining lectures, and I never tire of them no matter how many times I have heard the same stories. Stephen Card was also onboard, and for those that don't know him he is an incredible marine artist based out of Bermuda. His beautiful paintings are all over the ROTTERDAM VI and the entire Holland America fleet for that matter. I think what truly sets his paintings apart is a three-fold approach. First is his love of ships and this certainly comes across in his work. Second is the amount of detail in every painting. Stephen goes to great lengths to ensure the setting for each painting is historically valid, and also that the ship is aesthetically correct in every way. This takes a great deal of time and research. Third is just pure talent, which Stephen possesses in abundance. The colors literally jump out at you and can be quite dramatic. Stephen gave one lecture which unfortunately I missed (I fell asleep on deck!), but I was able to catch it on TV and also some of it one to one during a dinner I was invited to in his penthouse. That was a lovely evening. Thanks again Stephen if you happen to be reading this! A surprise entertainer was Lorna Luft, daughter of legendary Judy Garland. Her performance was very entertaining, although I will say some of the notes were a bit of a stretch for her. She has an old Hollywood style so I think it was quite fitting she performed on this traditional crossing. Lastly we had Holland America's production shows, if you can call them that. You see they have this concept called "Showroom at Sea". It's supposed to be a more intimate cabaret type setting with shows that are equally more intimate. Translation is that the large production shows are history, replaced by smaller shows with four lead singers and only two female dancers. That is the entire compliment of performers for the shows. Personally I thought the shows were rather amateur and it truly seemed like more of a cost cutting measure to me. When I was on NIEUW AMSTERDAM last November, they still had the large production shows but also some smaller shows like Cantare, which comprised of four males singers performing in a similar style to Il Divo. It thought it was excellent and would have loved to have seen it again on ROTTERDAM VI.
Our single port of call was Cobh, Ireland. This city is pronounced as "Cove". It's a lovely little waterfront town with quite a heritage. Cobh is somewhat famous for being the last port of call before TITANIC met her doom several days later. The last photographs of the ship were also taken as the ship departed Cobh. Many aspects of the town have a Titanic theme from pubs to gift shops. Overall it was a quaint and charming diversion from shipboard life. Not too far away is the Blarney Stone, but already kissed that on my last visit!
This voyage ended in the city of Rotterdam, which after all is quite fitting considering the historic nature of this crossing. We docked not far from the original Holland America Line headquarters, which you can now spend the night in as the Hotel New York. We also passed the now static ship ROTTERDAM V, which is permanently docked as a floating hotel. Since I started this adventure off by seeing the beautiful laid up SS UNITED STATES in Philadelphia, what better way to end it than by staying the night on the original "Grande Dame", the ROTTERDAM V. I wish I could say my visit to the hotel ROTTERDAM V was a complete success, but this was not the case. On the positive she is beautifully restored. Absolutely stunning and the restoration work is first class all the way. She is very much how I remember her aesthetically.
Unfortunately I can't recommend staying onboard as the current management is pretty horrific. I can't remember when I've encountered so many rude staff members and one hardly feels welcomed onboard. Most of the ship feels like a police state, as there are rent-a-cops all over the ship looking and acting like they belong in the Nazi SS. You would think they were guarding Hitler himself! Honestly it was beyond ridiculous. Even when you first embark the ship there is a large security office just as you enter, looking very high tech and imposing. This is your first impression and unfortunately it sets the tone for the overall experience. While I enjoyed my time onboard, I would not return under the current management and cannot recommend it to anyone else.
I was able to capture some photos of the beautiful public rooms (which wasn't easy believe me), and they are looking very much as I remember from her sailing days with HAL and Premier. The cabins/rooms were also nicely done, and for the most part they are the size of two cabins when the ship was active (an inside and outside cabin).
Overall I really enjoyed this trip. It afforded the opportunity to spend time with some old friends and make new ones as well, all in an atmosphere of relaxation and no set schedule. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Attached are two picture links, those of the current ROTTERDAM VI crossing and another link for the static hotel ship ROTTERDAM V. I hope you enjoy.
ROTTERDAM VI Crossing
ROTTERDAM V Static Hotel Ship