The Amsterdam personifies Holland America Cruise Line's total image. Tradition and quality are the heart and soul of this new ship. Some cruise lines change architects as new ships are designed; Royal Caribbean International even retains several architects, each designing a different area of the same ship which does seem to work for them. In keeping with HAL's adherence to continuity, Franz Dingemans, the architect of the Amsterdam, designed the last eight HAL ships. He received guidelines from the company as to budget and tone, and then injected his personality and ideas to create a unique function for each venue. The Amsterdam is a glamorous, imposing counterpart to its dignified sister ship, Rotterdam.
This liner constructed in Italy is geared for a world cruise. Rich mahogany is the primary material, along with marble and granite. Glitz is left to Carnival. The materials are costly and opulent. Many fabrics, carpets and art works are imported from Holland, with most furnishings originating in Italy.
Boarding the ship, we couldn't miss the three-deck atrium's focal point, the elaborate Astrolabe Clock. This huge clock with a carillon in its base displays a world clock, planetary clock and an astrological clock. The ship seems to revolve around the Astrolabe.
A steward showed us to our cabin. It wasn't large but had the luxury of a bathtub with an overhead shower. Two beds could join to become a big bed. Many staterooms offer verandahs with glass balustrades to provide an unobstructed view of sea and scenery. The well-appointed stateroom, decorated in muted tones, had a couch, table, dressing table, TV, hairdryer, and a large window.
We explored the ship starting with the exclusive Navigation Deck. Two penthouses, each occupying 1,126 square feet including a verandah, are located here. This deck also houses 50 luxury suites, each with 563 square feet, including a balcony. The Neptune Lounge is reserved solely for suite passengers. A concierge for these privileged staterooms handles tour reservations, dining reservations for the alternative dining room, and special requests. Navigation Deck guests receive priority tender boarding passes, to eliminate waiting when arriving in ports. They also go ashore first when the cruise terminates. Suite passengers have VIP use of the Neptune Lounge to relax, await tours and disembarking.
Similar to Celebrity Cruise Line, which provides butlers for penthouse passengers, the Neptune Lounge serves gourmet coffees and "noshes" during the day. For star treatment, hot and cold appetizers may be ordered to the cabin at no charge. Other "perks" include flowers on the first formal evening, and meal service in the stunning King's Room adjacent to the main dining room. Chic high tea will be delivered to the cabin. On a long cruise, the advantage of complimentary laundry and dry cleaning is a consideration. Passengers who feel "herded" on large ships should weigh the added cost against these special privileges. If the budget is willing, a vacation is the time to be spoiled and pampered in the suite life.
The first buffet in the informal Lido restaurant was minimal: sandwiches, pasta, fruit salad, soup, and dessert. However, on longer cruises, we are assured the menu is diversified and outstanding. Royal blue is the predominant décor color. Tablecloths delight the eye in colorful fruit patterns. As our cruise began, we sat next to the Lido's huge windows, enjoying iced tea while watching small boats sail and motor by on the inland waterway.
The main dining room, La Fontaine, features an expansive, artistic, stained glass ceiling. The diner can expect typical cruise menus prepared in acceptable, if not exciting, fashion. Holland America employs Indonesian servers, who are attentive to the needs of guests. If a passenger requests iced tea at one meal, it will probably appear at each meal after that. Occasionally, patience may be needed when interacting with staff who may have limited English language ability.
Passengers will enjoy the alternative dining restaurant, The Odyssey, at either lunch or dinner. Special alternative venues on most ships are open only for dinner. Italian food is prepared in a separate galley to service what has been called "the most beautiful restaurant that floats." Many cruise lines add a charge for alternative dining, but the Odyssey doesn't add an extra fee or tip. The menu includes a succulent veal chop, osso buco, and special pastas. The opulent décor and smooth service add to the overall dining experience.
Public Rooms & Entertainment
We admired the library, movie theater, children's facilities, and boutiques. The Crows Nest, at the top of the ship, with its scenic wraparound view is a favorite gathering place.
The showroom is predominantly charcoal gray and wine with some patterned banquettes. Light fixtures resemble inverted coolie hats. Around the room, female statues balance light fixtures above their heads. Two huge television screens on either side of the stage ensure a good view of the show for everyone. Since the ship holds about 1380 passengers, the showroom seats about 700. We enjoyed headliner, Joy Behar, the funny lady of "The View" TV show. Passengers were quoting her lines for the rest of the trip. Impressionist Richard Simon from Sherman Oaks, California, the standard cruise ship revue, a juggler, and late show comics rounded out the entertainment on our short cruise. We hope cruise lines will eventually return to top headline entertainers on more than the occasional theme cruise. However, cruise industry executives have indicated to us that they don't believe entertainment is a factor in passengers booking a particular cruise. Therefore, we can't expect changes in the near future.
The Passenger Mix
In the past, a majority of passengers on Holland America ships seemed to be senior citizens. However, friends who cruised on the Veendam recently said the passengers appeared to span all age groups. We met families with college kids and youngsters while traveling on the Westerdam, as well as newlyweds and fifty-year weds. The pace isn't frenetic, but the Amsterdam offers something for everyone: gambling, lectures, golf, art auctions, bingo, volleyball, a seven-terminal internet café, sunbathing and dancing. For many years Holland America has employed dance hosts on the longer cruises, but executives are now considering using gentleman hosts on some of the shorter cruises. Since many solo women cruise, we believe hosts would add an excellent reason for them to choose Holland America ships.
A Medical Note
Amsterdam passengers will usually find a dentist on board for emergencies. This is most unusual on cruise ships. Medical doctors are always available to attend passengers.
The Amsterdam is currently cruising Panama. Soon she will reposition to Europe for a summer cruise itinerary. Lucky passengers will enjoy the "changing of the leaves" New England/Canada cruise in the fall. If you haven't experienced this cruise, it's a "don't miss" winner. Camera buffs will love the fabulous photo "ops." Eventually, the Amsterdam will cruise around the world, probably in early 2002. We hope to be on it!
Photos courtesy of Jack White.
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Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie Out to Sea on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
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