The evolution of heritage: A first look at Holland America's new Rotterdam cruise ship
Editor’s note: Holland America Line provided a complimentary cruise for TPG to get an early look at Rotterdam. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by Holland America or any external entity.
Tradition has always been at the forefront for Holland America Line, a company with roots that reach as far back as 1873, when the then-named Nederlandsche-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij (Dutch-American Steamship Company) ferried passengers back and forth between Rotterdam and New York City.
HAL's first ship was Rotterdam; since the line began operations, it has just about always had a vessel with that name in its fleet.
In November, I sailed on the line's newest ship -- the seventh to bear the name for Holland America. With its modern take on passenger cruising, it's a far cry from the original Rotterdam -- and from many other Holland America ships -- but it still finds plenty of ways to pay homage to its predecessors while innovating in ways that both retain what matters to its stalwart passenger base and make space for new generations of cruisers without being too flashy.
Here's how the newest Rotterdam handles dining, cabins, entertainment and more.
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Dining and drinks
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Holland America's cuisine is seriously underrated.
Whether you're eating in an added-fee specialty restaurant, grabbing a meal in the included main dining room or snagging a snack from the cafe, the quality and presentation of the food on HAL's ships are consistently superb. It's one of the few cruise lines that doesn't require passengers to pay extra in order to enjoy a truly delicious or fancy meal.
The complimentary two-deck dining room is open daily for breakfast, lunch (on sea days) and dinner. Apart from a few fun lighting fixtures, the space is fairly neutral and nondescript, leaving all eyes on the food itself, and it doesn't disappoint.
I thoroughly enjoyed my French onion soup, Caesar salad and salmon with capers and dill. The menu offers several more exciting selections, too, some of which incorporate port-sourced ingredients. There are also several options for vegetarians and cruisers who can't eat dairy or gluten.
Among the other complimentary dining outposts are the Lido Market buffet, which is crew-served and open for all meals with an astounding variety of options; the Grand Dutch Cafe, which offers out-of-this-world grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and pea soup, plus complimentary coffee and extra-fee alcohol and prepackaged Dutch candy and pastries; and New York Deli and Pizza, overlooking the main pool.
Unfortunately, my slice of pizza looked (and tasted) like it had been under a heat lamp for hours. (It was the only subpar dining experience I had on the entire sailing, but other passengers I spoke with said their experience was fantastic.) Room service is available 24 hours a day, and it's also free, with the exception of select items that are noted on the menu.
Pinnacle Grill, the ship's added-cost steakhouse, is a favorite of Holland America fans, and it's one of the most dress-up-worthy venues on board.
Designed for carnivores, the menu does offer a couple of vegetarian choices, but the star of the show is the meat. I drooled over the candied bacon appetizer — designed by chef David Burke and served on a clothesline -- which was so good one of my travel companions joked he'd be ordering it again for dessert.
My 7-ounce filet mignon arrived cooked to perfection, along with sauces and shareable sides like asparagus, lobster macaroni and cheese and roasted baby beets with blue cheese. Anyone looking for something more substantial will be pleased to find that a 36-ounce tomahawk steak is also available to order.
Rudi's Sel de Mer is an upscale for-fee restaurant that focuses on fish and seafood, but steak, duck and lamb also make an appearance on the menu, as well as a few vegetarian selections. You can't go wrong with the jumbo Alaskan crab legs, which come cracked and ready to eat with a side of drawn butter.
For dessert, I highly recommend Rudi's Face to Face Chocolate, which consists of fruit and chocolate arranged on a plate in one of chef Rudi Sodamin's signature Food Faces designs.
Tamarind, the added-fee Asian restaurant that shares real estate with Nami Sushi, is located at the very aft of the ship. I found it difficult to access initially, but it's a stunning, elegant space with an interesting list of dishes such as a satay sampler with Malaysian, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese small bites; cashew barramundi with red Thai curry; wasabi- and soy-crusted beef tenderloin; and Mongolian barbecue lamb chops.
I absolutely loved the spicy dan dan noodles with a side of steamed jasmine rice.
Also worth noting are Canaletto, an Italian restaurant that takes up residence at the Lido Market at night and levies a supplemental charge, and the Club Orange dining room, which is free to passengers who are booked in suites. Cruisers not booked in suites are able to pay for access to Club Orange and a slew of other perks.
As with most ships, Rotterdam has a large number of bars, but a few stand out.
The most impressive is the Half Moon Bar, which is new to the fleet and boasts a menu that's a mix of science and history. In addition to wine and beer, this watering hole -- located where the Blend wine mixing bar is found on other Pinnacle-class vessels -- boasts seven exclusive cocktails, each with its own story and ties to Holland America's maritime history.
My favorite? The Rotterdam VII: smoked gin and maraschino. It's a smokey drink that actually appeals to those of us who prefer sweeter tipples. Plus, the presentation is one you won't want to miss. (Be ready to snap a photo or take a video.)
My second-favorite beverage outpost is the Grand Dutch Cafe for its cappuccinos and nibbles as much as its mixed drinks. The former are fabulous, but if you're looking for a sugar rush, you'll also want to try the Dutch take on an Aperol spritz -- De Kuyper Oranje Bitter mixed with Sprite. Be warned: it's over-the-top sweet, but it pairs perfectly with one of the cafe's complimentary pastries.
For those seeking some quiet time reading, playing board games, doing puzzles or simply gazing at the sea, head to the Crow's Nest. The lounge's Explorations Cafe ensures you won't have to go far to grab a cozy coffee or tea, but this location deserves a shout simply because it's the only place on board where I was able to find my favorite Dutch treat, stroopwafels.
Then there's the Sea View Bar, which offers standard poolside drinks near the adults-only Sea View Pool. The starboard (right, when facing the front of the ship) side of the area is dedicated to smokers, which is a turnoff, but otherwise, there are comfy seats, twin hot tubs and, of course, the pool itself, which is backlit by color-changing mood lighting at night and complemented by breathtaking vistas of the ship's wake by day.
Below the suite level, cabins on Rotterdam comprise the usual categories: insides, outsides and balconies all with neutral, subdued color schemes that are almost exclusively white, cream, brown and tan with light woods. The only pops of black, slate gray and light blue come from a few throw pillows, the bed runner and curtains (in oceanview and balcony cabins). The houndstooth carpet pattern also stands out.
Even the most standard staterooms are outfitted with touches many mainstream lines don't bother to incorporate, such as glass showers and shaving bars in the bathrooms; shoeshine baskets and tie racks in the closets; and USB charging ports near the beds in the main cabin, as well as DVD players to go along with the interactive televisions.There's also an impressive selection of free movie titles from which to choose.
Makeup-lovers will appreciate enhanced lighting near each cabin vanity, as well as standalone makeup mirrors, which can be found in the drawers alongside a hairdryer.
Passengers looking for more high-end digs will appreciate Rotterdam's selection of suites, which include Vista Suites (basically a slightly larger balcony cabin), Signature Suites (with a murphy bed, dual-sink vanity and full-size whirlpool bath) and Neptune Suites (large sitting area, Neptune Lounge access and a private concierge in addition to Signature Suite amenities).
All are elegantly appointed and offer a bit more space than standard cabins.
All cruisers booked in Neptune Suite accommodations have complimentary Club Orange access, entitling them to meals in the exclusive Club Orange dining room, as well as other perks like priority embarkation and disembarkation. Passengers not booked in suites are able to join Club Orange by paying for those extras.
Forty cabins across several categories, including suites, are tailored for accessibility. Of those 40, 13 are ambulatory accessible for passengers who use canes or walkers. The rest are fully accessible for cruisers with wheelchairs or scooters; they are equipped with roll-in showers and other accommodations.
Additionally, the ship provides 12 cabins for solo travelers. All are found in a cluster at the front of Deck 12 (the Main Deck) and are fairly small.
Entertainment on Holland America ships is generally more subdued than what you might expect when sailing with some other lines, but that doesn't mean it's boring.
New to the fleet with Rotterdam's debut is "Origin Story," a high-tech, live-hosted documentary-style show that chronicles HAL's history -- from the original Rotterdam through the pandemic-related shutdown of 2020 -- in a way that will leave you wanting to see it more than once. (Bring tissues.)
The World Stage, where "Origin Story" is shown, serves as the ship's main theater and also plays host to dance performances and doo-wop groups, among other nightly shows.
A highlight of the onboard entertainment scene is Music Walk, a promenade dotted with four performance venues that house different musical experiences and other offerings, allowing passengers to find something that caters to their specific tastes.
The Rolling Stone Rock Room features a live band that plays nightly rock tunes, while B.B. King's Blues Club puts the focus on bluesy hits and comedic acts.
Billboard Onboard, which also serves as the home base for daily trivia competitions, pits dueling pianists against one another for decade-specific tunes, Hot 100 songs and even requests.
Lincoln Center Stage spotlights instrumental performances, covering genres like classical, Latin and French. I was surprised to see that some of the nighttime venues had people dancing as late as 1 a.m.
Some of the other options for fun-seeking travelers include casino play, poolside movies, afternoon tea, pickleball, board games, basketball shooting competitions, spa seminars, dance and mixology classes and wine tastings.
Rotterdam's public spaces are elegantly designed and feature plenty of nooks and crannies for relaxing, finding some quiet time or grabbing a drink. The ship was at less than 40% capacity when I sailed, so I can't speak to how crowded it might feel when it's full, but I had no trouble escaping for a few quiet moments now and then.
Some of the notable public areas include the Greenhouse Spa and Salon, where passengers can receive a variety of for-fee treatments like massages and manicures, have their hair done or check out the thermal suite; the fitness center (which is equipped with several cardio and weight machines, as well as free weights and studio space for added-cost yoga and spin classes); the top-deck jogging track for fresh-air laps; and the onboard shops, selling everything from HAL logo wear and duty-free items to toiletries you might have forgotten to pack.
The vessel's main pool is the Lido Pool on Deck 9. Thankfully, it lacks bright, kitschy, tropical decor that seems to be synonymous with cruise ships and, instead, boasts plenty of loungers, a retractable roof to allow swimming in any kind of weather, three hot tubs and easy access to bar service, gelato and the buffet, as well as the deli and pizzeria, which is one deck above.
The Sea View Pool, also on Deck 9, is the adults-only pool. There, the focus is on the passing scenery and the ship's wake. There are also two hot tubs, and elegant lantern lighting is reminiscent of an upscale beach club.
As the third ship in Holland America's Pinnacle Class, Rotterdam is the product of evolution. It's worlds away from some of the line's oldest vessels, yet still the same in all the ways that matter: comfort, service, food, tradition, serenity and understated elegance.
New on Rotterdam are the previously mentioned Half Moon Bar; the onboard library, which gives me serious Barnes & Noble vibes and is fully stocked with sections for travel, young adult, mystery, poetry, fiction and science fiction, among others; and the onboard art collection, comprising 2,500 intriguing and eye-catching pieces from artists around the world.
With Rotterdam and the other vessels in the Pinnacle Class, Holland America has managed to please its most loyal demographic while offering plenty to keep younger cruisers satisfied and entertained. Although it doesn't attract large numbers of children, it's absolutely suitable for multigenerational family trips.
Service is great across the board; cabins are well-appointed, elegant and comfortable; and the food in just about every eatery is simply excellent.