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Cruise Views

Rotterdam VI: Fashionably Late

January 04, 1998|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month

After a delivery delay, Holland America Line's new flagship Rotterdam VI was christened in Fort Lauderdale Dec. 9 by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. The ceremony had been scheduled for Venice on Oct. 19, but the ship was only finished in time to make a scheduled transatlantic crossing from Barcelona Nov. 11, arriving in Fort Lauderdale Dec. 4.

The Rotterdam's builder, Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, is also tardy in completing the Disney Magic, the first ship for Disney Cruise Line, which was due to make its maiden voyage on March 12 but has been postponed until April 30.

The new 62,000-ton Rotterdam VI, which carries 1,316 passengers, is not a replica of the former Rotterdam, despite its great popularity with the line's repeat passengers. The company wanted to create a "flagship for the 21st century," according to a line spokesman, who also pointed out that the classic Rotterdam V was considered a very modern, even revolutionary, ship in its day. That ship, at 38,000 tons and carrying 1,065 passengers, sailed for the line from 1958 until September 1997.

Capt. Kees Buckens outlined the technical advances aboard the new ship by comparing it to HAL's most recently built vessels in the Statendam class (Statendam, Massdam, Ryndam and Veendam), including a faster top cruising speed (25 knots), five diesel generators, a greater fuel oil capacity that would allow the ship to cruise at full speed for 17 to 20 days before refueling, and the capability of turning 300,000 gallons of seawater into freshwater every day. The ship, at 781 feet, is also 62 feet longer than the Statendam class vessels and is slightly wider at 105.8 feet, the limit for transiting the Panama Canal.

From the hardware standpoint the new Rotterdam VI is dazzling, but the software, i.e. service, was lackluster on the early sailings from Fort Lauderdale. The crew seemed inattentive and the service perfunctory, perhaps due to pressures from the delay, and many passengers were disturbed both in early morning and later in the evenings by constant chatter from service personnel in the hallways outside the far-from-soundproof doors.

Holland America's famous self-service buffets, long a standard-setter for the industry, were also uninspired, with breakfast eggs and meats served tepid rather than piping hot.

On the other hand, meals in the handsome two-deck restaurant were tasty and well-presented, while an Italian dinner in the elegant Odyssey Restaurant, the first alternative dining room for the line, was quite good. The 88-seat restaurant is decorated in the style of a 17th century villa, with wall murals of the Italian countryside and glass bay windows looking onto interior corridors on the promenade deck.

Two decks of suites and mini-suites provide private verandas for 160 cabins that range in size from 284 square feet in the 120 mini-suites to 1,126 square feet in the two enormous penthouse suites. Of the 658 total cabins, 117 are insides and 381 outsides without private verandas. All are comfortably furnished with twin beds that can be converted to queen-size, along with desk/dressers, leather sofas and coffee tables that convert to dining table height for passengers who wish to dine in their cabins. All outside cabins have bathtubs with shower, and inside cabins have showers only.

The art collection aboard, mostly European antiques, is valued at $11.5 million. You can't miss the centerpiece in the three-deck atrium, a towering clock inspired by a 17th century Flemish clock and constructed for the ship by Italian sculptor Gilbert Lebigre. Fourteen clocks tell the time in cities around the world.

The new ship also previewed HAL's new out-island experience at Half Moon Cay on Little San Salvador in the Bahamas, where all of the line's Caribbean and Panama Canal passengers can enjoy water sports, sandy beaches, a tropical barbecue lunch, steel band music, a Bahamian straw market, even a small chapel for weddings and renewal of vows.

The Rotterdam VI will set out on its first world cruise from Los Angeles Jan. 19, visiting 30 ports in the South Pacific, Asia, Africa and South America before arriving in Fort Lauderdale on April 24 and New York on April 26. Line spokespersons say 650 passengers have booked the entire world cruise, with some space on some segments still available. A 15-day segment between Cape Town, South Africa, and Rio de Janeiro from March 28 through April 12, for instance, starts at a brochure price of $4,460 per person, double occupancy, including air fare.

To get a free color brochure about the new Rotterdam VI, contact a travel agent or call (800) 426-0327.

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