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Cruise Ship Review

ms Rotterdam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Launched in 1997, the Rotterdam VI is the sixth in a line of Holland America flagships and it shows. The first Rotterdam set sail in 1872, beginning a Holland America tradition and reputation that continued through the Rotterdam V, one of the most beloved ships of all time and host to 28 world cruises.

Like her five 'classic' predecessors, the Rotterdam is more of a throwback to earlier cruise ships compared to most megaships built after 1995. However, with a maximum cruising speed of 25 knots and all of the modern amenities expected of a relatively large ship, the Rotterdam successfully straddles that sometimes fine line between classic and modern.

Highlights of the Rotterdam experience include: some of the largest "standard" cabins afloat; a high percentage of outside cabins that feature verandahs; upscale alternative Italian dining in the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey Restaurant; and the popular Java Bar, where espresso, cappuccino, cookies, and more are complimentary throughout the day (they also make fresh popcorn for the large Wajang Theater nearby).

The Rotterdam also features typical Holland America history and service. Memorabilia of the line's fabled past can be seen throughout the ship (the Dutch officers are happy to share the company's history with curious passengers). In addition, the Indonesian and Filipino staff continue the Holland America tradition of sparkling clean ships and white-gloved service.

Dining

The dining experience begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement with the Rotterdam.

As is typical with Holland America, there are many tables for two. If the ship isn't sailing full, tables for four along the port and starboard windows are transformed into wonderful tables for two.

The dining experience on Rotterdam begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement onboard Rotterdam.

"As You Wish Dining," the line's relatively new evening set-up has been added to Rotterdam. Essentially, this more flexible approapch offers passengers a choice of traditional set-seating at dinner time or an open seating arrangement. One level of La Fontaine is devoted to the traditional early or main seating scenario, the other is open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. Passengers can either make reservations -- or just walk in.

The menus in La Fontaine strike a nice balance between contemporary cuisine and more traditional fare. Each lunch and dinner menu features several creative choices involving unique preparation, sauces, or pairings. But the menus offer 'plain' options as well, including 'From the Grill' items like salmon, prime rib, and more, as well as lighter cuisine and a vegetarian choice. Special diets can be accommodated by La Fontaine chefs with 30 days notice. The wine list is outstanding and the wine stewards are knowledgeable without being overbearing (there's a four- or six-wine 'Wine Navigator' package of moderately priced and varied bottles that many passengers enjoy).

The Pinnacle Grill is a huge hit with Rotterdam passengers. The menu is currently creative Italian, with the pastas and veal consistent favorites. The wine list is different from La Fontaine's, with several more excellent Italian choices and a popular two-glass white and red choice to accompany what many consider one of the top "alternative" restaurants afloat. There's a $20 per person fee. One note though: the ambience of the restaurant, which has no windows, can be a little bit drab.

The Lido Restaurant is a nice dining surprise. The breakfast and lunch offerings are fairly standard at the cafeteria-style restaurant, though excellent omelets for breakfast and occasional lunchtime Indonesian 'rice tables' or Indian curry stations provide unusual choices. At dinner, the Lido transforms into a 'bistro' that is quite popular with those who don't always want to get dressed up on more formal nights. The Lido also has espresso and cappuccino available 24 hours a day. Just outside, a self-serve stand is open practically all day, with choices like hamburgers, hot dogs, and Mexican fare for a more casual meal.

Holland America offers 24 hour room service.

Public Rooms

The Rotterdam seemingly has a favorite space for everyone and the ship rarely seems crowded. It starts with the bustling three-deck atrium, which certainly isn't as flashy as those on more recent ships. The hub is a wonderful clock tower, with finely crafted sculptures and 14 clocks telling the time around the world.

In addition to the fascinating Holland America memorabilia found throughout the ship, specially commissioned works of art also fill the Rotterdam, ranging from oil paintings to sculptures to textile designs and much more. Museum-quality antiques are also found in many public rooms.

Favorite pre- and post-dinner gathering spots include the spacious Explorer's Lounge and the Ocean Bar on the Upper Promenade Deck, as well as the Crow's Nest up on the Sports Deck (especially popular during port departures). The Ambassador Lounge (and Tropic Bar within it) are more intimate, though passing traffic can make them seem less so at times. Several of these lounges feature varied music in the evenings, as well as complimentary (and generally creative) hor d'oeuvres.

Recently released movies are shown in the Wajang Theater throughout the day, with popcorn munching, cookie nibbling, and cappuccino sipping all encouraged.

Several self-serve laundries are conveniently located on most decks with cabins.

Cabins

Lots of space, convenient layouts, thoughtful amenities, and muted colors all keep the Rotterdam's cabins as popular as ever. As mentioned, the standard cabins consistently get rave reviews, with the Large Outside Staterooms offering 196 square feet and the Large Inside Staterooms featuring 185 square feet. These cabins offer a separate sitting area that features a leather couch, with more storage space for a standard cabin than is typically seen at sea. Other standard cabin offerings include a nice-sized bathroom with hairdryer and toiletries, a safe, and a television with movies, satellite coverage when available, and closed-circuit choices. There are 20 cabins with Holland America's excellent wheelchair access and facilities. There are also 20 cabins with fully-obstructed views and 22 cabins with partially obstructed views on the Lower Promenade Deck.

The verandah staterooms are definitely worth the price (especially on cruises where a verandah will be used often). The 120 Verandah Suites (230 square feet, excluding verandah) are an especially good value, with a queen-size bed, a larger seating area, in-room refrigerator and mini-bar, whirlpool bath, and a verandah. The 36 Deluxe Verandah Suites (385 square feet, excluding verandah) and four Penthouse Suites (946 square feet, excluding verandah) throw in a king-size bed, dressing room, complimentary stationary, a dressing room, and expanded verandah, as well as the use of the 'private' Neptune Lounge, with personal concierge service, food and beverages throughout the day, and a reading area with current magazines.

Entertainment

The two-story Queen's Lounge features the expected nightly entertainment, combining typically excellent Anita Mann productions with varying solo and small group performers (music, magic, and the like). As mentioned, venues like the Ocean Bar, Explorer's Lounge, Crow's Nest, and elsewhere feature nightly entertainment, ranging from a pianist to quintets and pop to classical (dancing is popular). The demographics of a typical Rotterdam sailing mean the casino's offerings of slots, blackjack, roulette, and poker are only moderately busy.

Fitness and Recreation

Steiner's Ocean Spa on the Lido Deck looks out to sea with floor-to-ceiling windows. The bright space features modern exercise and weight machines, along with a juice bar. Fitness classes are offered several times a day, ranging from yoga to aerobics and more (some classes have charges and they seem a bit steep). The spa proper offers the typical Steiner services, including the beauty parlor, facials, massage, and more--the massage treatment rooms are on the smaller side.

The Lower Promenade offers a popular walking deck (with great deck chairs), where 3 1/2 laps means a mile. There are two pools, with a retractable roof on the Lido Deck covering one (where two large whirlpool tubs and a 'kiddy' pool are also situated). Other sports facilities and activities include shuffleboard, putting, and a basketball, volleyball, and paddle tennis court.

Further 'recreational' opportunities include popular enrichment lectures, 'horse racing,' dance lessons, and lots of organized games. The popular Web Site Cafe (run by DigitalSeas) is situated between the well-stocked Library and the often bustling Card Room.

Family

Holland America's Club HAL is offered to children 5-12 and teens 13-17 aboard the Rotterdam. There's a full-time youth counselor, but the level of activities really depends on the itinerary and time of year (e.g., school breaks). However, potential passengers should be aware that the ship is not particularly family-intensive by any stretch of the imagination (though most children will surely enjoy themselves). Babysitters are typically easy to arrange.

Fellow Passengers

Though a typical Holland America and Rotterdam cruise tends to attract more mature passengers, younger travelers and families are definitely coming aboard. It all depends on the itinerary and time of year. Gentleman Hosts are typically onboard for cruises of two weeks and longer.

Dress Code

Seven-night cruises typically feature two formal nights, with an extra formal night for every additional five days or so on longer cruises. Men definitely tend to wear tuxedos on these nights. Semi-formal nights call for jacket, but ties are optional. Casual nights simply call for resort wear, where blue jeans and T-shirts are frowned upon by fellow passengers.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.Launched in 1997, Rotterdam VI is the sixth in a line of Holland America flagships and it shows. The first Rotterdam set sail in 1872, beginning a Holland America tradition and reputation that continued through Rotterdam V, one of the most beloved ships of all time and host to 28 world cruises.

Like her five classic predecessors, Rotterdam is more of a throwback to earlier cruise ships compared to most megaships built after 1995. However, with a maximum cruising speed of 25 knots and all of the modern amenities expected of a relatively large ship, the Rotterdam successfully straddles that sometimes fine line between classic and modern.

Highlights of the Rotterdam experience include: some of the largest "standard" cabins afloat; a high percentage of outside cabins that feature verandahs; upscale alternative dining in the Pinnacle Grill; and the Explorations Cafe -- a library, Internet cafe and coffee bar wrapped into one popular hangout.

The Rotterdam also features typical Holland America history and service. Memorabilia of the line's fabled past can be seen throughout the ship (the Dutch officers are happy to share the company's history with curious passengers). In addition, the Indonesian and Filipino staff continue the Holland America tradition of sparkling clean ships and white-gloved service.

Dining

The dining experience on Rotterdam begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement onboard Rotterdam.

"As You Wish Dining," the line's relatively new evening set-up has been added to Rotterdam. Essentially, this more flexible approach offers passengers a choice of traditional set-seating at dinner time or an open seating arrangement. One level of La Fontaine is devoted to the traditional early or main seating scenario, the other is open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. Passengers can either make reservations -- or just walk in.

As is typical with Holland America, there are many tables for two. If the ship isn't sailing full, tables for four along the port and starboard windows are transformed into wonderful tables for two.

The menus in La Fontaine strike a nice balance between contemporary cuisine and more traditional fare. Each lunch and dinner menu features several creative choices involving unique preparation, sauces, or pairings. But the menus offer plain options as well, including "From the Grill" items like salmon, prime rib, and more, as well as lighter cuisine and a vegetarian choice. Special diets can be accommodated by La Fontaine chefs with 30 days notice. The wine list is outstanding and the wine stewards are knowledgeable without being overbearing (there's a four- or six-wine "Wine Navigator" package of moderately priced and varied bottles that many passengers enjoy).

The Pinnacle Grill is a huge hit with Rotterdam passengers. The menu was once Northwest-themed, but it now feels more like continental steakhouse fare. The menu starts off with appetizers like spicy chicken coconut soup, lobster bisque, Dungeness crab cakes and Caesar salad. Entrees include seafood -- lobster tail, black cod, salmon -- but the real star is the grill, with everything from porterhouse and filet mignon to veal chops and lamb. Lobster macaroni and cheese is listed as an entree, but it's a bit rich; the appetizer-sized portion is just right. Make room for dessert, which includes baked Alaska, served with Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, and the Grand Marnier chocolate volcano. There's a $20 per person fee.

The Lido Restaurant is a nice dining surprise. The breakfast and lunch offerings are fairly standard at the cafeteria-style restaurant, though excellent omelets for breakfast and occasional lunchtime Indonesian "rice tables" or Indian curry stations provide unusual choices. At dinner, the Lido transforms into a bistro that is quite popular with those who don't always want to get dressed up on more formal nights. Just outside, a self-serve stand is open practically all day, with choices like hamburgers, hot dogs and Mexican fare for a more casual meal. Aft of the Lido is an outdoor pizza counter called Slice.

One section of the Lido has been outfitted with a slightly different decor, and at dinner (served from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), this area becomes Canaletto, an alternative Italian dining experience. Reservations are suggested, but walk-ups are accepted on a space-available basis. There is no fee to dine there, and the menu is the same each night.

The menu starts with antipasti -- choose from grilled veggies, balls of mozzarella cheese and Italian deli meats. Next is a choice of appetizers (salad, minestrone soup or seafood soup), and entrees include assorted pasta dishes, Veal Milanese, Chicken Marsala Scaloppini and Cod Putanesca. At the end of the meal, every table receives a dish of cotton candy to share, in addition to a choice of desserts. The food and experience is quite good for a no-fee onboard eatery.

Holland America offers 24 hour room service.

Public Rooms

The Rotterdam seemingly has a favorite space for everyone and the ship rarely seems crowded. It starts with the bustling three-deck atrium, which certainly isn't as flashy as those on more recent ships. The hub is a wonderful clock tower, with finely crafted sculptures and 14 clocks telling the time around the world.

In addition to the fascinating Holland America memorabilia found throughout the ship, specially commissioned works of art also fill the Rotterdam, ranging from oil paintings to sculptures to textile designs and much more. Museum-quality antiques are also found in many public rooms.

The Deck 4 area houses the front desk and shore excursions desk. Directly opposite is the photo gallery and art gallery. The Hudson meeting room is on Deck 5.

The Deck 5 atrium has two shops, selling logowear, destination-related souvenirs and duty-free goods like liquor and perfume. Opposite Mix, an open-plan store sells jewelry (everything from costume pieces to Tanzanite), as well as purses, ties, pashminas and more expensive souvenirs. Next door, the Merabella Luxury Collection Shop sells very upscale, designer jewelry pieces.

On Deck 5, the Explorations Cafe is Rotterdam's library/coffee bar/Internet cafe. Wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and couches line the windows, with several tables and chairs for reading, puzzling, chatting over coffee and working on personal laptops. Computer terminals are available to guests, and the ship is also wired for Wi-Fi. Internet pricing is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy packages of 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. A $3.95 activation fee applies on the first login, and printing is available at 25 cents per print job.

At the coffee bar, hot coffee drinks range from $1.20 to $3.05 and iced drinks from $1.60 to $2.85. Alcoholic coffee beverages are also available for higher prices; pastries and finger sandwiches are available for free.

Several self-serve laundries are conveniently located on most decks with cabins.

Cabins

Lots of space, convenient layouts, thoughtful amenities, and muted colors all keep the Rotterdam's cabins as popular as ever. As mentioned, the standard cabins consistently get rave reviews, with the 346 standard outside cabins offering 197 square feet and the 125 inside cabins featuring 182 square feet. These cabins offer a separate sitting area that features a leather couch, with more storage space for a standard cabin than is typically seen at sea. Other standard cabin offerings include a nice-sized bathroom with hairdryer and toiletries, a safe, and a television with movies, satellite coverage when available, and closed-circuit choices. There are 25 cabins with Holland America's excellent wheelchair access and facilities.

The verandah staterooms are definitely worth the price (especially on cruises where a verandah will be used often). The 152 Verandah Suites (230 square feet, excluding verandah) are an especially good value, with a queen-size bed, a larger seating area, in-room refrigerator and mini-bar, whirlpool bath, and a verandah. The 36 Deluxe Verandah Suites (385 square feet, excluding verandah) and four Penthouse Suites (946 square feet, excluding verandah) throw in a king-size bed, dressing room, complimentary stationery, a dressing room and expanded verandah, as well as the use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge, with personal concierge service, food and beverages throughout the day, and a reading area with current magazines.

Two new cabin categories feature interesting modifications to the basic cabin choices. Twenty-three cabins near the spa form a group of spa cabins. These cabins come with extra amenities, such as priority spa bookings on embarkation day, spa concierge service, turn-down gifts each evening, an enhanced mini-bar setup (Vitamin Water and Voss, rather than Evian and Coke), organic bathrobes and slippers, a "distinctive shower head," wooden bathmats, iPod docking stations, water features, yoga mats, pedometers and fitness DVDs. In addition, spa cabin guests can book Spa Stateroom Rituals, spa treatments exclusive to these passengers. A spa breakfast menu is a healthier take on the typical room service menu, offering items like healthy cereals (no Frosted Flakes), egg selections made with egg beaters or egg whites, and fresh-fruit smoothies.

In addition, former outside cabins on the Lower Promenade Deck have been transformed into 39 lanai cabins. These cabins are the same size as standard outsides. The difference is that, instead of an outer wall with a picture window, each has floor-to-ceiling windows with a sliding glass door leading to the Promenade Deck. Two deck chairs outside are reserved per cabin. The back door is opened from the inside with a push button; to get back, you must swipe a special key against a pad to unlock the door.

In order to have access out the sliding door, the cabin furniture is arranged like a balcony cabin, but as there's not as much floor space, the desks in lanai cabins are smaller than in other cabins and have no drawers. All cabins on this deck (both outside and lanai cabins) have special glass, so the interiors of the staterooms cannot be seen by day from deck. (At night, draw the curtains.)

The lanai cabins are great for people who want easy access to the outdoors and the wraparound Promenade Deck. But, having access to a public deck is nothing like having your own balcony -- no place for al fresco breakfasts in your PJ's, no private space to relax and gaze at sea. A lanai cabin should not be equated to a balcony cabin when choosing which stateroom to book.

Entertainment

Rotterdam employ HAL's signature activities program, broken down into Explorations (presentations on destinations -- including culture, shopping, wildlife and history -- led by the Travel Guide), Culinary Arts (such as cooking demos, classes on entertaining and wine tastings, hosted by the Party Planner), Microsoft Digital Workshops (courses on photo editing, blogging and creating Web pages, hosted by the Techspert) and Mind-Body-Spirit (fitness classes, lectures on wellness and trivia, hosted by the Lifestylist). The program, which is aimed at the more mature traveler, has a terrific premise -- using the cruise to improve travelers' lives by giving them new skills in areas like technology, exercise and diet, rather than serving merely as a week of over-indulging in food and bingo. The computer classes get rave reviews from technology novices (classes are very basic), and one-on-one coaching is available during "Techspert Time." The Tai Chi sessions also get a great turnout each day. Other daytime activities include bingo and bridge play, as well as the ubiquitous Park West art auctions.

The Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center is a double-duty venue on Deck 4. It houses a show kitchen where culinary demonstrations and private cooking classes (for a fee) take place. Private cooking classes are taught by the Pinnacle Grill's chef, the ship's executive chef or a guest chef, and topics range from kids' cooking workshops to desserts (Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake, creme brulee trio). The space also serves as a movie theater, which offers three showings of a different film each day, complete with popcorn.

Rotterdam's Showroom at Sea is a new twist on both theater seating and the productions themselves. The theater now offers tiered seating with the front rows by the stage populated with cabaret-style chairs and small tables. The shows themselves have also changed. Gone are the Vegas-style, large-scale production shows that didn't work on the ship's small stage. They've been replaced by more intimate shows, featuring an onstage orchestra, minimalist sets and a cast of singers (all of whom have previously performed on Broadway) and dancers. The idea is to present higher-quality productions that don't need to rely on the wow factor of crazy sets, costumes and technological tricks.

Deck 5 is Rotterdam's entertainment hub. A live band plays old favorites and dance music in the Ocean Bar. The casino has slot machines, poker tables, a roulette table and blackjack tables. Smoking is allowed in the casino.

Directly opposite the casino, Mix is Rotterdam's new-in-2009 primary bar area. The three bars in Mix are the Spirits & Ales bar; the Martini Bar, with a piano for sing-alongs with the Piano Man in residence; and the Champagne Bar, more of an upscale kiosk. The updated look of Mix is very contemporary. Just down the hall, the Explorer's Lounge is both a daytime hangout and a nighttime spot with classical music and drinks service.

The Crow's Nest is the latest of the late-night venues, hosting interactive events like the Marriage Game, karaoke and Super Star Singing Competition, as well as D.J. music into the wee hours.

Fitness and Recreation

Steiner's Greenhouse Spa on the Lido Deck looks out to sea with floor-to-ceiling windows. The bright space features modern exercise and weight machines, along with a juice bar. Fitness classes are offered several times a day, ranging from yoga to aerobics and more (some classes have charges and they seem a bit steep). The spa proper offers the typical Steiner services, including the beauty parlor, facials, massage, and more--the massage treatment rooms are on the smaller side.

The main pool mid-ship on the Lido Deck features two large whirlpool tubs and a retractable roof. On the aft end of the deck, through the Lido Restaurant, is the Retreat resort pool area, new to Rotterdam after its 2009 dry dock. It's a wonderful area for lying out while keeping cool, dining al fresco or simply taking in the scenery. Specially shaped lounge chairs that lift up on either end (so you can recline facing either direction without rotating the entire lounger) sit in a three-inch-deep pool of water. In the middle of this Retreat pool is a wading area with tiled benches and a hot tub. Surrounding the pool are regular plastic loungers, tables and chairs, a bar and Slice Pizza. A movie screen is hung above the pizzeria and bar. The Retreat is not an adults-only venue.

The Lower Promenade offers a popular walking deck (with great deck chairs), where 3 1/2 laps means a mile. Other sports facilities and activities include shuffleboard, putting, and a basketball, volleyball, and paddle tennis court.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.Launched in 1997, the Rotterdam VI is the sixth in a line of Holland America flagships and it shows. The first Rotterdam set sail in 1872, beginning a Holland America tradition and reputation that continued through the Rotterdam V, one of the most beloved ships of all time and host to 28 world cruises.

Like her five 'classic' predecessors, the Rotterdam is more of a throwback to earlier cruise ships compared to most megaships built after 1995. However, with a maximum cruising speed of 25 knots and all of the modern amenities expected of a relatively large ship, the Rotterdam successfully straddles that sometimes fine line between classic and modern.

Highlights of the Rotterdam experience include: some of the largest "standard" cabins afloat; a high percentage of outside cabins that feature verandahs; upscale alternative Italian dining in the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey Restaurant; and the popular Java Bar, where espresso, cappuccino, cookies, and more are complimentary throughout the day (they also make fresh popcorn for the large Wajang Theater nearby).

The Rotterdam also features typical Holland America history and service. Memorabilia of the line's fabled past can be seen throughout the ship (the Dutch officers are happy to share the company's history with curious passengers). In addition, the Indonesian and Filipino staff continue the Holland America tradition of sparkling clean ships and white-gloved service.

Dining

The dining experience begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement with the Rotterdam.

As is typical with Holland America, there are many tables for two. If the ship isn't sailing full, tables for four along the port and starboard windows are transformed into wonderful tables for two.

The dining experience on Rotterdam begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement onboard Rotterdam.

"As You Wish Dining," the line's relatively new evening set-up has been added to Rotterdam. Essentially, this more flexible approapch offers passengers a choice of traditional set-seating at dinner time or an open seating arrangement. One level of La Fontaine is devoted to the traditional early or main seating scenario, the other is open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. Passengers can either make reservations -- or just walk in.

The menus in La Fontaine strike a nice balance between contemporary cuisine and more traditional fare. Each lunch and dinner menu features several creative choices involving unique preparation, sauces, or pairings. But the menus offer 'plain' options as well, including 'From the Grill' items like salmon, prime rib, and more, as well as lighter cuisine and a vegetarian choice. Special diets can be accommodated by La Fontaine chefs with 30 days notice. The wine list is outstanding and the wine stewards are knowledgeable without being overbearing (there's a four- or six-wine 'Wine Navigator' package of moderately priced and varied bottles that many passengers enjoy).

The Pinnacle Grill is a huge hit with Rotterdam passengers. The menu is currently creative Italian, with the pastas and veal consistent favorites. The wine list is different from La Fontaine's, with several more excellent Italian choices and a popular two-glass white and red choice to accompany what many consider one of the top "alternative" restaurants afloat. There's a $20 per person fee. One note though: the ambience of the restaurant, which has no windows, can be a little bit drab.

The Lido Restaurant is a nice dining surprise. The breakfast and lunch offerings are fairly standard at the cafeteria-style restaurant, though excellent omelets for breakfast and occasional lunchtime Indonesian 'rice tables' or Indian curry stations provide unusual choices. At dinner, the Lido transforms into a 'bistro' that is quite popular with those who don't always want to get dressed up on more formal nights. The Lido also has espresso and cappuccino available 24 hours a day. Just outside, a self-serve stand is open practically all day, with choices like hamburgers, hot dogs, and Mexican fare for a more casual meal.

Holland America offers 24 hour room service.

Public Rooms

The Rotterdam seemingly has a favorite space for everyone and the ship rarely seems crowded. It starts with the bustling three-deck atrium, which certainly isn't as flashy as those on more recent ships. The hub is a wonderful clock tower, with finely crafted sculptures and 14 clocks telling the time around the world.

In addition to the fascinating Holland America memorabilia found throughout the ship, specially commissioned works of art also fill the Rotterdam, ranging from oil paintings to sculptures to textile designs and much more. Museum-quality antiques are also found in many public rooms.

Favorite pre- and post-dinner gathering spots include the spacious Explorer's Lounge and the Ocean Bar on the Upper Promenade Deck, as well as the Crow's Nest up on the Sports Deck (especially popular during port departures). The Ambassador Lounge (and Tropic Bar within it) are more intimate, though passing traffic can make them seem less so at times. Several of these lounges feature varied music in the evenings, as well as complimentary (and generally creative) hor d'oeuvres.

Recently released movies are shown in the Wajang Theater throughout the day, with popcorn munching, cookie nibbling, and cappuccino sipping all encouraged.

Several self-serve laundries are conveniently located on most decks with cabins.

Cabins

Lots of space, convenient layouts, thoughtful amenities, and muted colors all keep the Rotterdam's cabins as popular as ever. As mentioned, the standard cabins consistently get rave reviews, with the Large Outside Staterooms offering 196 square feet and the Large Inside Staterooms featuring 185 square feet. These cabins offer a separate sitting area that features a leather couch, with more storage space for a standard cabin than is typically seen at sea. Other standard cabin offerings include a nice-sized bathroom with hairdryer and toiletries, a safe, and a television with movies, satellite coverage when available, and closed-circuit choices. There are 20 cabins with Holland America's excellent wheelchair access and facilities. There are also 20 cabins with fully-obstructed views and 22 cabins with partially obstructed views on the Lower Promenade Deck.

The verandah staterooms are definitely worth the price (especially on cruises where a verandah will be used often). The 120 Verandah Suites (230 square feet, excluding verandah) are an especially good value, with a queen-size bed, a larger seating area, in-room refrigerator and mini-bar, whirlpool bath, and a verandah. The 36 Deluxe Verandah Suites (385 square feet, excluding verandah) and four Penthouse Suites (946 square feet, excluding verandah) throw in a king-size bed, dressing room, complimentary stationary, a dressing room, and expanded verandah, as well as the use of the 'private' Neptune Lounge, with personal concierge service, food and beverages throughout the day, and a reading area with current magazines.

Entertainment

The two-story Queen's Lounge features the expected nightly entertainment, combining typically excellent Anita Mann productions with varying solo and small group performers (music, magic, and the like). As mentioned, venues like the Ocean Bar, Explorer's Lounge, Crow's Nest, and elsewhere feature nightly entertainment, ranging from a pianist to quintets and pop to classical (dancing is popular). The demographics of a typical Rotterdam sailing mean the casino's offerings of slots, blackjack, roulette, and poker are only moderately busy.

Fitness and Recreation

Steiner's Ocean Spa on the Lido Deck looks out to sea with floor-to-ceiling windows. The bright space features modern exercise and weight machines, along with a juice bar. Fitness classes are offered several times a day, ranging from yoga to aerobics and more (some classes have charges and they seem a bit steep). The spa proper offers the typical Steiner services, including the beauty parlor, facials, massage, and more--the massage treatment rooms are on the smaller side.

The Lower Promenade offers a popular walking deck (with great deck chairs), where 3 1/2 laps means a mile. There are two pools, with a retractable roof on the Lido Deck covering one (where two large whirlpool tubs and a 'kiddy' pool are also situated). Other sports facilities and activities include shuffleboard, putting, and a basketball, volleyball, and paddle tennis court.

Further 'recreational' opportunities include popular enrichment lectures, 'horse racing,' dance lessons, and lots of organized games. The popular Web Site Cafe (run by DigitalSeas) is situated between the well-stocked Library and the often bustling Card Room.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.Launched in 1997, Rotterdam VI is the sixth in a line of Holland America flagships and it shows. The first Rotterdam set sail in 1872, beginning a Holland America tradition and reputation that continued through Rotterdam V, one of the most beloved ships of all time and host to 28 world cruises.

Like her five classic predecessors, Rotterdam is more of a throwback to earlier cruise ships compared to most megaships built after 1995. However, with a maximum cruising speed of 25 knots and all of the modern amenities expected of a relatively large ship, the Rotterdam successfully straddles that sometimes fine line between classic and modern.

Highlights of the Rotterdam experience include: some of the largest "standard" cabins afloat; a high percentage of outside cabins that feature verandahs; upscale alternative dining in the Pinnacle Grill; and the Explorations Cafe -- a library, Internet cafe and coffee bar wrapped into one popular hangout.

The Rotterdam also features typical Holland America history and service. Memorabilia of the line's fabled past can be seen throughout the ship (the Dutch officers are happy to share the company's history with curious passengers). In addition, the Indonesian and Filipino staff continue the Holland America tradition of sparkling clean ships and white-gloved service.

Dining

The dining experience on Rotterdam begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement onboard Rotterdam.

"As You Wish Dining," the line's relatively new evening set-up has been added to Rotterdam. Essentially, this more flexible approach offers passengers a choice of traditional set-seating at dinner time or an open seating arrangement. One level of La Fontaine is devoted to the traditional early or main seating scenario, the other is open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. Passengers can either make reservations -- or just walk in.

As is typical with Holland America, there are many tables for two. If the ship isn't sailing full, tables for four along the port and starboard windows are transformed into wonderful tables for two.

The menus in La Fontaine strike a nice balance between contemporary cuisine and more traditional fare. Each lunch and dinner menu features several creative choices involving unique preparation, sauces, or pairings. But the menus offer plain options as well, including "From the Grill" items like salmon, prime rib, and more, as well as lighter cuisine and a vegetarian choice. Special diets can be accommodated by La Fontaine chefs with 30 days notice. The wine list is outstanding and the wine stewards are knowledgeable without being overbearing (there's a four- or six-wine "Wine Navigator" package of moderately priced and varied bottles that many passengers enjoy).

The Pinnacle Grill is a huge hit with Rotterdam passengers. The menu was once Northwest-themed, but it now feels more like continental steakhouse fare. The menu starts off with appetizers like spicy chicken coconut soup, lobster bisque, Dungeness crab cakes and Caesar salad. Entrees include seafood -- lobster tail, black cod, salmon -- but the real star is the grill, with everything from porterhouse and filet mignon to veal chops and lamb. Lobster macaroni and cheese is listed as an entree, but it's a bit rich; the appetizer-sized portion is just right. Make room for dessert, which includes baked Alaska, served with Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, and the Grand Marnier chocolate volcano. There's a $20 per person fee.

The Lido Restaurant is a nice dining surprise. The breakfast and lunch offerings are fairly standard at the cafeteria-style restaurant, though excellent omelets for breakfast and occasional lunchtime Indonesian "rice tables" or Indian curry stations provide unusual choices. At dinner, the Lido transforms into a bistro that is quite popular with those who don't always want to get dressed up on more formal nights. Just outside, a self-serve stand is open practically all day, with choices like hamburgers, hot dogs and Mexican fare for a more casual meal. Aft of the Lido is an outdoor pizza counter called Slice.

One section of the Lido has been outfitted with a slightly different decor, and at dinner (served from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), this area becomes Canaletto, an alternative Italian dining experience. Reservations are suggested, but walk-ups are accepted on a space-available basis. There is no fee to dine there, and the menu is the same each night.

The menu starts with antipasti -- choose from grilled veggies, balls of mozzarella cheese and Italian deli meats. Next is a choice of appetizers (salad, minestrone soup or seafood soup), and entrees include assorted pasta dishes, Veal Milanese, Chicken Marsala Scaloppini and Cod Putanesca. At the end of the meal, every table receives a dish of cotton candy to share, in addition to a choice of desserts. The food and experience is quite good for a no-fee onboard eatery.

Holland America offers 24 hour room service.

Public Rooms

The Rotterdam seemingly has a favorite space for everyone and the ship rarely seems crowded. It starts with the bustling three-deck atrium, which certainly isn't as flashy as those on more recent ships. The hub is a wonderful clock tower, with finely crafted sculptures and 14 clocks telling the time around the world.

In addition to the fascinating Holland America memorabilia found throughout the ship, specially commissioned works of art also fill the Rotterdam, ranging from oil paintings to sculptures to textile designs and much more. Museum-quality antiques are also found in many public rooms.

The Deck 4 area houses the front desk and shore excursions desk. Directly opposite is the photo gallery and art gallery. The Hudson meeting room is on Deck 5.

The Deck 5 atrium has two shops, selling logowear, destination-related souvenirs and duty-free goods like liquor and perfume. Opposite Mix, an open-plan store sells jewelry (everything from costume pieces to Tanzanite), as well as purses, ties, pashminas and more expensive souvenirs. Next door, the Merabella Luxury Collection Shop sells very upscale, designer jewelry pieces.

On Deck 5, the Explorations Cafe is Rotterdam's library/coffee bar/Internet cafe. Wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and couches line the windows, with several tables and chairs for reading, puzzling, chatting over coffee and working on personal laptops. Computer terminals are available to guests, and the ship is also wired for Wi-Fi. Internet pricing is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy packages of 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. A $3.95 activation fee applies on the first login, and printing is available at 25 cents per print job.

At the coffee bar, hot coffee drinks range from $1.20 to $3.05 and iced drinks from $1.60 to $2.85. Alcoholic coffee beverages are also available for higher prices; pastries and finger sandwiches are available for free.

Several self-serve laundries are conveniently located on most decks with cabins.

Cabins

Lots of space, convenient layouts, thoughtful amenities, and muted colors all keep the Rotterdam's cabins as popular as ever. As mentioned, the standard cabins consistently get rave reviews, with the 346 standard outside cabins offering 197 square feet and the 125 inside cabins featuring 182 square feet. These cabins offer a separate sitting area that features a leather couch, with more storage space for a standard cabin than is typically seen at sea. Other standard cabin offerings include a nice-sized bathroom with hairdryer and toiletries, a safe, and a television with movies, satellite coverage when available, and closed-circuit choices. There are 25 cabins with Holland America's excellent wheelchair access and facilities.

The verandah staterooms are definitely worth the price (especially on cruises where a verandah will be used often). The 152 Verandah Suites (230 square feet, excluding verandah) are an especially good value, with a queen-size bed, a larger seating area, in-room refrigerator and mini-bar, whirlpool bath, and a verandah. The 36 Deluxe Verandah Suites (385 square feet, excluding verandah) and four Penthouse Suites (946 square feet, excluding verandah) throw in a king-size bed, dressing room, complimentary stationery, a dressing room and expanded verandah, as well as the use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge, with personal concierge service, food and beverages throughout the day, and a reading area with current magazines.

Two new cabin categories feature interesting modifications to the basic cabin choices. Twenty-three cabins near the spa form a group of spa cabins. These cabins come with extra amenities, such as priority spa bookings on embarkation day, spa concierge service, turn-down gifts each evening, an enhanced mini-bar setup (Vitamin Water and Voss, rather than Evian and Coke), organic bathrobes and slippers, a "distinctive shower head," wooden bathmats, iPod docking stations, water features, yoga mats, pedometers and fitness DVDs. In addition, spa cabin guests can book Spa Stateroom Rituals, spa treatments exclusive to these passengers. A spa breakfast menu is a healthier take on the typical room service menu, offering items like healthy cereals (no Frosted Flakes), egg selections made with egg beaters or egg whites, and fresh-fruit smoothies.

In addition, former outside cabins on the Lower Promenade Deck have been transformed into 39 lanai cabins. These cabins are the same size as standard outsides. The difference is that, instead of an outer wall with a picture window, each has floor-to-ceiling windows with a sliding glass door leading to the Promenade Deck. Two deck chairs outside are reserved per cabin. The back door is opened from the inside with a push button; to get back, you must swipe a special key against a pad to unlock the door.

In order to have access out the sliding door, the cabin furniture is arranged like a balcony cabin, but as there's not as much floor space, the desks in lanai cabins are smaller than in other cabins and have no drawers. All cabins on this deck (both outside and lanai cabins) have special glass, so the interiors of the staterooms cannot be seen by day from deck. (At night, draw the curtains.)

The lanai cabins are great for people who want easy access to the outdoors and the wraparound Promenade Deck. But, having access to a public deck is nothing like having your own balcony -- no place for al fresco breakfasts in your PJ's, no private space to relax and gaze at sea. A lanai cabin should not be equated to a balcony cabin when choosing which stateroom to book.

Entertainment

Rotterdam employ HAL's signature activities program, broken down into Explorations (presentations on destinations -- including culture, shopping, wildlife and history -- led by the Travel Guide), Culinary Arts (such as cooking demos, classes on entertaining and wine tastings, hosted by the Party Planner), Microsoft Digital Workshops (courses on photo editing, blogging and creating Web pages, hosted by the Techspert) and Mind-Body-Spirit (fitness classes, lectures on wellness and trivia, hosted by the Lifestylist). The program, which is aimed at the more mature traveler, has a terrific premise -- using the cruise to improve travelers' lives by giving them new skills in areas like technology, exercise and diet, rather than serving merely as a week of over-indulging in food and bingo. The computer classes get rave reviews from technology novices (classes are very basic), and one-on-one coaching is available during "Techspert Time." The Tai Chi sessions also get a great turnout each day. Other daytime activities include bingo and bridge play, as well as the ubiquitous Park West art auctions.

The Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center is a double-duty venue on Deck 4. It houses a show kitchen where culinary demonstrations and private cooking classes (for a fee) take place. Private cooking classes are taught by the Pinnacle Grill's chef, the ship's executive chef or a guest chef, and topics range from kids' cooking workshops to desserts (Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake, creme brulee trio). The space also serves as a movie theater, which offers three showings of a different film each day, complete with popcorn.

Rotterdam's Showroom at Sea is a new twist on both theater seating and the productions themselves. The theater now offers tiered seating with the front rows by the stage populated with cabaret-style chairs and small tables. The shows themselves have also changed. Gone are the Vegas-style, large-scale production shows that didn't work on the ship's small stage. They've been replaced by more intimate shows, featuring an onstage orchestra, minimalist sets and a cast of singers (all of whom have previously performed on Broadway) and dancers. The idea is to present higher-quality productions that don't need to rely on the wow factor of crazy sets, costumes and technological tricks.

Deck 5 is Rotterdam's entertainment hub. A live band plays old favorites and dance music in the Ocean Bar. The casino has slot machines, poker tables, a roulette table and blackjack tables. Smoking is allowed in the casino.

Directly opposite the casino, Mix is Rotterdam's new-in-2009 primary bar area. The three bars in Mix are the Spirits & Ales bar; the Martini Bar, with a piano for sing-alongs with the Piano Man in residence; and the Champagne Bar, more of an upscale kiosk. The updated look of Mix is very contemporary. Just down the hall, the Explorer's Lounge is both a daytime hangout and a nighttime spot with classical music and drinks service.

The Crow's Nest is the latest of the late-night venues, hosting interactive events like the Marriage Game, karaoke and Super Star Singing Competition, as well as D.J. music into the wee hours.

Fitness and Recreation

Steiner's Greenhouse Spa on the Lido Deck looks out to sea with floor-to-ceiling windows. The bright space features modern exercise and weight machines, along with a juice bar. Fitness classes are offered several times a day, ranging from yoga to aerobics and more (some classes have charges and they seem a bit steep). The spa proper offers the typical Steiner services, including the beauty parlor, facials, massage, and more--the massage treatment rooms are on the smaller side.

The main pool mid-ship on the Lido Deck features two large whirlpool tubs and a retractable roof. On the aft end of the deck, through the Lido Restaurant, is the Retreat resort pool area, new to Rotterdam after its 2009 dry dock. It's a wonderful area for lying out while keeping cool, dining al fresco or simply taking in the scenery. Specially shaped lounge chairs that lift up on either end (so you can recline facing either direction without rotating the entire lounger) sit in a three-inch-deep pool of water. In the middle of this Retreat pool is a wading area with tiled benches and a hot tub. Surrounding the pool are regular plastic loungers, tables and chairs, a bar and Slice Pizza. A movie screen is hung above the pizzeria and bar. The Retreat is not an adults-only venue.

The Lower Promenade offers a popular walking deck (with great deck chairs), where 3 1/2 laps means a mile. Other sports facilities and activities include shuffleboard, putting, and a basketball, volleyball, and paddle tennis court.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Dining

The dining experience on Rotterdam begins with the two-deck La Fontaine Dining Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the ship, and a sweeping double staircase. While Holland America's food hasn't always been the line's strong point, we see signs of improvement onboard Rotterdam.

"As You Wish Dining," the line's relatively new evening set-up has been added to Rotterdam. Essentially, this more flexible approach offers passengers a choice of traditional set-seating at dinner time or an open seating arrangement. One level of La Fontaine is devoted to the traditional early or main seating scenario, the other is open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. Passengers can either make reservations -- or just walk in.

As is typical with Holland America, there are many tables for two. If the ship isn't sailing full, tables for four along the port and starboard windows are transformed into wonderful tables for two.

The menus in La Fontaine strike a nice balance between contemporary cuisine and more traditional fare. Each lunch and dinner menu features several creative choices involving unique preparation, sauces, or pairings. But the menus offer plain options as well, including "From the Grill" items like salmon, prime rib, and more, as well as lighter cuisine and a vegetarian choice. Special diets can be accommodated by La Fontaine chefs with 30 days notice. The wine list is outstanding and the wine stewards are knowledgeable without being overbearing (there's a four- or six-wine "Wine Navigator" package of moderately priced and varied bottles that many passengers enjoy).

La Fontaine also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

The Pinnacle Grill is a huge hit with Rotterdam passengers. The menu was once Northwest-themed, but it now feels more like continental steakhouse fare. The menu starts off with appetizers like spicy chicken coconut soup, lobster bisque, Dungeness crab cakes and Caesar salad. Entrees include seafood -- lobster tail, black cod, salmon -- but the real star is the grill, with everything from porterhouse and filet mignon to veal chops and lamb. Lobster macaroni and cheese is listed as an entree, but it's a bit rich; the appetizer-sized portion is just right. Make room for dessert, which includes baked Alaska, served with Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, and the Grand Marnier chocolate volcano. There's a $20 per person fee.

The Lido Restaurant is a nice dining surprise. The breakfast and lunch offerings are fairly standard at the cafeteria-style restaurant, though excellent omelets for breakfast and occasional lunchtime Indonesian "rice tables" or Indian curry stations provide unusual choices. At dinner, the Lido transforms into a bistro that is quite popular with those who don't always want to get dressed up on more formal nights. Just outside, a self-serve stand is open practically all day, with choices like hamburgers, hot dogs and Mexican fare for a more casual meal. Aft of the Lido is an outdoor pizza counter called Slice.

One section of the Lido has been outfitted with a slightly different decor, and at dinner (served from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), this area becomes Canaletto, an alternative Italian dining experience. Reservations are suggested, but walk-ups are accepted on a space-available basis. There is no fee to dine there, and the menu is the same each night.

The menu starts with antipasti -- choose from grilled veggies, balls of mozzarella cheese and Italian deli meats. Next is a choice of appetizers (salad, minestrone soup or seafood soup), and entrees include assorted pasta dishes, Veal Milanese, Chicken Marsala Scaloppini and Cod Putanesca. At the end of the meal, every table receives a dish of cotton candy to share, in addition to a choice of desserts. The food and experience is quite good for a no-fee onboard eatery.

Holland America offers 24 hour room service.

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