You Talkin’ To Me?

Next week, Holland America Line introduces Eurodam, the first of its new Signature-class of vessels. In anticipation for the event — and this new class of vessel for Holland America Line, this story looks back at a similar introduction five years ago. Be sure to tune in next week for inaugural events from the new Eurodam.

Rotterdam, July 2003 — Holland America Line designed a ship for me. I’m not kidding, and I could hardly believe what I was hearing as I sat at a press conference and listened to company executives talk about their new Vista-class vessels. This series broke the mold for the venerable company whose ships have been so popular among the line’s alumni that there had not been a major design change for a decade.

But here in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, where Holland America Line was founded in 1873, at the inaugural of the new Oosterdam, Holland America Line execs were telling me and others that Vista-class was designed to expand the line’s premium cruise product to appeal to a broader range of passengers. That meant me. I was part of the company’s new demographic, the  (then) 45-year-old with two kids that Holland America Line was targeting. They wanted me and others like me on this new brand of ship.

And so I set out on a quest to discover if indeed this was the ship for me — and my generation. In effect, like Robert Deniro in ‘Taxi Driver,’ I was asking Holland America Line execs a question firmly entrenched in the American vernacular, ‘You talking to me?’

Room To Stretch Out
Docked alongside Rotterdam’s historic Holland America Quay, a landmark for those who left for the United States on Holland America Line ships in the last and previous centuries, Oosterdam was christened bow-to-bow with the ship that holds the name of Holland America Line’s original liner, Rotterdam.

The significance of the oldest and newest ship docked within kissing distance wasn’t lost on those attending the event. Oosterdam was designed to bridge past and present — and point the way to the future.

At 81,769 tons and carrying 1,848 passengers, Vista-class vessels are Holland America Line’s largest ships — and also among the company’s most spacious. Oosterdam, for example, has a space ratio of 46, compared to the still-generous space ratio of 44 on the company’s 1,440-passenger Zaandam, built in 2000 at 63,000 tons. With Vista-class Holland America Line built a larger ship but not to cram in more people.

Large Inside RoomThat spaciousness extends to the staterooms and verandahs. Of the 924 staterooms, 85 percent offer ocean views, and two thirds of those feature verandahs. On Statendam-class ships, if you wanted a verandah, you had to pony up for suite accommodations.

Verandahs are relatively large too, ranging from 54 square feet to 318 square feet. Vista-class even introduced a new value-priced stateroom category that the line refers to as the ‘best verandah value at sea.’ These are called Deluxe Verandah Outside staterooms, and there are 461 of them (the most numerous category stateroom on the ship). They measure 200 square feet inside, with a 54-square-foot verandah.

Deluxe Verandah SuiteIf you’d like a verandah that’s twice as large, Superior Verandah Suites are the way to go. Up a notch further, ‘Penthouse’ and ‘Deluxe Verandah Suites’ provide enough verandah real estate for cows to graze — okay, the verandahs are not quite that large, but they are significantly spacious. Plus, these category suites provide access to the private concierge Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails are served. This is a ship where there are real incentives to upgrade.

Contemporary, Yet Classic
Oosterdam is a classic, traditional ship with contemporary touches. The beautiful Explorer’s Lounge — where hand-made chocolates and after-dinner coffee is served — sits right next door to the contemporary Windstar Cafe, where specialty coffees are served [Editor’s note: Vista-class ships have been upgraded since their introduction, and the Windstar Cafe has since been replaced with Explorations Cafe.]

Interior color schemes are more colorful than the primary Delft-inspired blue and whites that have long symbolized Holland America Line. The brighter design was meant to appeal to a younger audience.

Classic maritime themes, such as Captain Stephen Card’s renowned marine paintings, and museum quality artwork, such as the beautifully framed replicas of Dutch East India Company (VOC) pennies (once used to steep the masts of VOC ships), can be found throughout Oosterdam. Other notable pieces of art include a gorgeous Welsh Talbot Vase, a collection of rare 17th century prints from Japan that show the arrival of ships in Japanese ports, a rare Indian necklace from Rajasthan daring from the 19th century, a silver ship model that served as a container for salt and other condiments on a royal table, and whimsically, near the pool, a sculpture of four penguins standing on an iceberg.

Artists Gilbert Lebirge and Corinne Roger of Pietrasanta, Italy, were commissioned to design cast-aluminum elevator doors inspired by the art deco designs of New York’s Chrysler Building. Lebirge and Roger also created many of the ceilings and the major statues, such as the statues representing the four seasons, around the elevators.

Designers focused on creating many cozy nooks, so that the ship has a feel of intimacy, if not privacy. Oosterdam never felt crowded on my cruise, even though it was at full capacity. I was able to find my space — and keep it, whether at the bay window sitting areas that look out on the Promenade and the open sea at the Ocean Bar — or in a leather chair looking out on the sea in the Crow’s Nest at the top of the ship.

I also found there are some things the Oosterdam is not. Oosterdam, for example, strikes a sharp contrast to the stratospheric atriums found on new ships these days. Oosterdam’s three-deck atrium is small by ship standards — as well as pleasantly warm and embracing. I felt as if I were standing in the lobby at a fine hotel.

Here too is art. A Waterford crystal world globe, the atrium’s centerpiece, features raised continents in earth tones. Gazing up at the globe, I couldn’t help but think that Holland America is a world cruise line that drops anchor at ports on all seven continents.

A Premium Cruise Experience
To herald the beginning of dinner, a Filipino chime master, garbed in an elegant red jacket, strolls through the lounges. The light stroke of the chimes he carries signals that it is time to proceed to the two-level Vista Dining Room, which features striking stylized ceilings with golden flowers over a circular staircase. Another red-jacketed waiter offers figs, dates, and dried ginger as diners exit.

Oosterdam also offers alternative dining venues. Feast on U.S. Sterling Silver Beef and Northwest Seafood at the reservations-only Pinnacle Grill. The setting is gorgeous. Beautiful Italian Frette linens, Bvlgari show plates crafted by Rosenthal, and Reidel stemware adorn the tabletops. The most striking feature of the Pinnacle Grill, however, may just be the gorgeous aluminum chairs by the Italian artist Lebirge chairs. The dining experience here is well worth the $20 [Editor’s note: now $30] per person cover charge.

Of course, with complimentary 24-hour room service, there’s also the option of not leaving your stateroom at all. You may choose from the menu to have dinner on your verandah as you admire the sunset or the night stars and the sea. During my time on board, I used room service as a substitute for a wake-up call.

The steward knocked at my door at 7 a.m. on my last day on Oosterdam. He placed a tray of fruits and breads, coffee and juice on my verandah table. After he left, I took a seat and looked out on the Rotterdam skyline. This was a place for new beginnings — for all those who left here for America and for Holland America Line itself. The company had started off here more than 130 years ago and had come back here now to tout its newest ship.

Rotterdam was also a place of endings — for me, at least. I had finished my quest of exploring the ship. I packed my bags and made my way down to the lobby to disembark. I left having learned something. I left knowing what those execs had been talking about a few days ago when they said they were expanding the line’s premium cruise product to appeal to a broader range of passengers. Yes, they were talking to me.

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